Before the Civil War, education for African American children was far from a priority. While Maryland was a slave state, teaching a slave or free person wasn't punishable by law. Haitian refugee, Elizabeth Lange and French Sulpician priest, Father James Joubert decided to take advantage of this fact and founded the The Oblate Sisters of Providence, the first all black nunnery dedicated to providing education for young underprivileged colored girls. The Oblate Sister started their mission in 1828 and opened St. Frances Academy for Colored Girls.
Haiti was a war ridden
country in the early 1800s and many citizens had to flee to the United States.
Many of these refugees ended up initially fleeing to Cuba and then over the
years, started funneling in to Baltimore, Maryland. Among the masses were Reverend
James Mary Hector Nicholas Joubert de la Muraille and Mother Mary Lange. Both
had a strong background in education and saw the lack of educational
opportunities culminating around them. In 1828, after failed attempts of
providing schooling in her personal home with Caribbean refugee, Marie
Magdeleine Balas, Lange was finally offered the opportunity to found St.
Frances Academy for Colored Girls by Father Joubert, which they did within a
Father Joubert served as
the spiritual director of the academy until his death in 1843. During his years
as director, Joubert worked tirelessly to secure funds and fiercely protect his
convent from opposing views that argued colored women didn’t have the minds to
be educated. After his death, Mother Mary Lange took an even stronger
leadership role and took on a job as a domestic to support her community. She
worked all throughout her life to keep The Oblate Sister of Providence and St.
Frances Academy for Colored Girls thriving until her death in 1882.
Now shortened to St.
Frances Academy, the school Joubert and Lange founded 190 years has since
flourished and expanded in many ways. It became coeducational in the 70s and
the living areas were converted into classrooms for the incoming students. Even
in the past 20 years the population of the school has more than doubled due to
major advancements in technology, gymnasiums, and classroom space. The legacy
of Father James Joubert and Mother Mary Lange is prevalent in St. Francis
Academy still today, with their mission posted on their website stating, “Through
its dignity and uniqueness, St. Frances Academy continues the legacy of Mother
Mary Lange, its foundress. St. Frances Academy, with faith in God's Providence,
provides the immediate neighborhood and the Baltimore area relevant educational
programs which gives all members a sense of their cultural heritage and
giftedness by helping students and members of the community, particularly the
poor and the neglected, to recognize, develop and live as respectful, responsible,
and just members of God's human family”.