Oblate Sisters of Providence

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The Oblate Sisters of Providence is a Roman Catholic women's religious institute, founded by Mother Mary Elizabeth Lange (1784 - 1882), OSP, and Rev. James Nicholas Joubert, SS in 1829 in Baltimore, Maryland for the education of girls of African descent. It has the distinction of being the first Roman Catholic religious institute begun for Catholic women of African descent. The congregation is also a member of the Women of Providence in Collaboration.


Father Joubert belonged to a noble French family forced by the Revolution to take refuge in San Domingo. Alone of his family, he escaped from a massacre and went to Baltimore, first being a teacher and later entering St. Mary's Seminary to be a Sulpician priest. After his ordination he was given charge of the colored French speaking Catholics of St. Mary's chapel. Finding he was making no headway as the children were having trouble reading and learning their catechism he had the idea of founding a school for the purpose of educating these children. In this he was encouraged by his two friends, Fathers Babade and Tessier.

He was introduced to two women of African descent who kept a small private school, and had a hope of consecrating their lives to God. Father Joubert made known to them his plans for a school for girls of African descent and they offered to be at his service. Father Joubert proposed that they also form a religious institute as well as conducting a school. With the approval of the Archbishop of Baltimore a novitiate was begun. A little over a year on 2 July 1829, the first four sisters, Miss Elisabeth Lange of Santiago, Cuba, Miss Mary Rosine Boegues of San Domingo, Miss Mary Frances Balas of San Domingo, Miss Mary Theresa Duchemin of Baltimore made their vows.

Sister Mary was chosen superior, and Rev. Father Joubert was appointed director. Pope Gregory XVI approved the institute on 2 October 1831 under the title of Oblate Sisters of Providence. By 1910 the sisters conducted schools and orphanages at Baltimore, Washington, Leavenworth, St. Louis, Normandy (Mo.) Eventually the institute founded schools in eighteen states. Some missions only lasted a few years while others endured and changed with the needs of the community. By the 1950s there were over 300 Oblate Sisters of Providence teaching and caring for African American children.

Foreign missions began in 1900 when the Oblates opened their first mission in Havana, Cuba. The OSPs established seven missions in Cuba, but left in 1961 when the regime of Fidel Castro made it impossible for them to continue their work. In 1903 a convent and school opened on Old Providence Island in the western Caribbean. Due to extremely harsh conditions the mission closed after fifteen months. The Oblates had missions in the Dominican Republic and opened missions in Costa Rica in 1964, where they continue today.

In 1871 the sisters vacated the motherhouse on Richmond St. because the city needed the property. A new location was found on a knoll on what was then the outskirts of the city and a new motherhouse was built on Chase St. The sisters continued to operate an orphanage as well as a day and boarding school within the convent walls. The motherhouse remained on Chase Street in Baltimore until a new motherhouse was built in 1961 at 701 Gun Rd. in southwest Baltimore County. It is called Our Lady of Mount Providence and remains the motherhouse today. Several missions operated on the motherhouse property including Mt. Providence Junior College from 1963-1966. The motherhouse houses the administrative offices, a health care unit, a novitiate (there is also a novitiate in Costa Rica), the Mother Lange Guild (supporting the Cause for canonization of Mother Lange), and the Oblate Sisters of Providence Archives and Special Collections Library. Offices for the affiliated organizations of the National Oblate Sisters of Providence Alumni Association and Cojourners of the Oblate Sisters of Providence are located at the Motherhouse. The sisterhood has operated a Child Development Center and Reading and Math Center since 1972 on the Motherhouse property.

Currently the institute has approximately eighty members. The Oblate Sisters continue in Baltimore, Maryland, Miami, Florida, Buffalo, New York, Alajuela and Siquirres, Costa Rica.

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 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainHerbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company.