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How Mother Mary Lange Catholic School got its name

Ralph Moore is a community activist who advocated for naming a new Catholic school in Baltimore after Mother Mary Lange. (CR file)

When a new school opens in September 2021 bearing Mother Mary Lange’s name, it will be thanks in small part to community activist Ralph Moore and a well-timed letter to the editor in The Baltimore Sun.

In 2018, the Archdiocese of Baltimore needed a name for its first new city school in 60 years. For Moore, the solution was clear and her name was Mother Mary Lange.

During the 19th Century, Mother Lange and her sisterhood, the Oblate Sisters of Providence, were the only providers of Catholic education to black children in Baltimore, many of them the children of slaves. Mother Lange and the sisters, the first sustained religious order for women of African descent in the United States, also gave shelter to orphans and tended to the sick during the cholera epidemic of 1832. Named a “servant of God” by the Vatican, Mother Lange is line for sainthood and could become the first ever black American saint.

“Naming the school for her makes a strong statement about acknowledging the contributions of black Catholics in Baltimore despite longstanding racial prejudice by the church,” Moore wrote in his August 2018 letter to the newspaper.

The letter and subsequent online petition by the local community, attracted the attention of the Archdiocese of Baltimore and less than a month later Archbishop William E. Lori announced that the school would carry Mother Lange’s name.

“I couldn’t think of a better patron for what we’re trying to do at this school, which is to embrace and love young people, particularly young people of color, who live in our city and to offer them a place of safety and place a love, a place of respect and a place where they can flourish,” Archbishop Lori said this week.

The school was originally named after Cardinal William H. Keeler, but the archdiocese reversed course after a Pennsylvania grand jury report questioned then-Harrisburg Bishop Keeler’s handling of allegations of sexual abuse in Pennsylvania.

Moore’s connection to Mother Lange and the Oblate Sisters of Providence runs deep.

A photograph shows Mother Mary Lange late in life. (Courtesy Oblate Sisters of Providence)|

As a boy, Moore was taught by the Oblate sisters at St. Pius V Catholic School in the city’s Harlem Park neighborhood. And for 10 years, Moore worked for the Oblate sisters as the director of the St. Frances Academy Community Center.

Moore said he was impressed that Mother Lange and the Oblate sisters educated black children despite the prevailing racial prejudices of the time.

“She is sort of the mother of literacy in this area. The mother of education,” Moore said of Mother Lange. “(She and her fellow sisters) showed great courage, and their commitment was to a higher law.”

With state-of-the-art features such as a robotics lab, the 65,000 square-foot elementary school will primary serve black students from across the city.

“It makes a great statement for this community that the Catholic Church would name the school after Mother Mary Lange,” he said. “Many in the community, particularly in the African-American community, feel that Mother Mary Lange is a saint. We know she’s in heaven. … There was no question that she deserved that the school be named for her.”

Moore said he also pushed for the name because the archdiocese had named a school for Mother Lange before in 2005, only for it to close in 2010.

Moore said the new school, at Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Lexington Street, will be “a shot in the arm” and “a great boon” for the city’s Poppleton neighborhood just west of downtown.

“The school will impart certain values. Certain values are taught in Catholic schools such as love, kindness and care for those in need,” Moore said. “If it’s one thing people want, it is quality education for their children.”

For more on Mother Mary Lange Catholic School, visit www.mmlcs.org.

Email Tim Swift at tswift@CatholicReview.org