Update: As of September 4, the first day of school for Baltimore City students, Archbishop Lori has announced that the newest Catholic school will be named Mother Mary Lange Catholic School in honor of Mary Elizabeth Lange. She is known as the foundress of the Oblate Sisters of Providence and the first catholic school for black children.
"One can’t tell the history of the Catholic school system in this country without mentioning Mother Mary Lange,” Archbishop Lori said in a press release.“She was a visionary woman of deep faith and recognized the life-changing role of education in the lives of children, most especially those living on society’s margins. Please God, Mother Lange’s name on our new school will be a beacon that shines brightly for the children of Baltimore and a reminder to all that every child of God deserves a good education and the hope and opportunity that comes with it.”
Mother Lange is currently on the path to sainthood. The Vatican is reviewing her cause for canonization, which requires confirmation of two miracles attributed to her intercession.
In May, it was announced that the Archdiocese of Baltimore was going to open its first school in Baltimore City in 50 years. The school was going to be named after Cardinal William Keeler, but following new reports of sexual abuse cover-up by the former cardinal, that is no longer the case.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court released on August 14 a redacted version of a grand jury investigation into allegations of child sexual abuse by hundreds of Catholic priests and clergy in six dioceses. In that investigation, Keeler was accused of criminal inaction for his part in the cover-up of the of child sex abuse by Catholic priests while serving as bishop of Harrisburg in the 1980s.
Baltimore Archbishop William Lori released a statement saying, in part, "At this difficult time in the life of the church, we in the Archdiocese of Baltimore are especially saddened and troubled by the news of the late Cardinal William H. Keeler's failures while serving as bishop of Harrisburg, one of the six dioceses cited in the grand jury report. As a result of today's painful revelations about the cardinal's failures to protect children while serving as bishop of Harrisburg, it is no longer the plan of the archdiocese to name the proposed new Catholic school in Baltimore after Cardinal Keeler."
Instead, the archbishop is considering a proposal for the new West Baltimore school to be named after Mother Mary Lange, who established the country’s first Catholic school for black children. The proposal came from local resident, Ralph Moore, in the form of a letter to The Baltimore Sun.
“The fact that Archbishop of Baltimore, William Lori, has decided to remove former Cardinal William Keeler’s name from the new Catholic school planned for opening in West Baltimore is clearly more than the right thing to do,” Moore wrote in the letter. “One way to begin healing is to rename the planned school for Mother Mary Lange, the founder of the Oblate Sisters of Providence, an order of African-American nuns here in Baltimore.”
Sean Caine, vice chancellor for the archdiocese, said that Mother Mary Lange was being considered before Moore proposed the idea. Although he was unable to provide the other names being considered, he says that it is an ongoing process.
“The Archbishop is consulting with local pastors, school, and leaders in the community where the school will be located before making a final decision,” he said in an email. “It’s among the names being considered for the school. No timetable for that decision has been set.”
Born in the Caribbean, Elizabeth Mary Lange moved to Baltimore in the early 1800s and opened a free school for black children in Fells Point. Lange also founded the Oblate Sisters of Providence, the first order of black nuns in modern history. Their school became St. Frances, the oldest Catholic school for children of color in the United States. She is currently on the path to canonization and could become the first black American saint.
Sister Gwynette Proctor, who is the director of the Office of Black Catholic Ministries, says that naming the school after Mother Lange is a no-brainer. She believes that her influence has spanned worldwide.
“The impact her life has had on the black community, it cannot be measured,” she said. “Naming the school after her could be the first tangible step in the healing process in the Catholic church.”
In the meantime, the Archdiocese is still in the process of gathering funds for the school, having raised more than $13 million towards the $18.5 million goal to open the co-ed school that will serve pre-k through eighth grade. Caine said that no groundbreaking or open date will be set until all funds are raised.
Until then, the Archbishop will continue to weigh his options for the new school’s name. Sister Proctor is praying the organization votes in favor of Mother Lange.
“I can’t predict what he will decide but what I do know of Archbishop Lori is that he’s passionate about education and he has an open mind and, he too, has been promoting the cause of Mother Mary Lange,” Proctor said. “This action right now, for black Catholics, is tremendously significant. This certainly could be a great public witness to her influence.”