More than thirty years before the Civil War, when blacks and women were generally viewed as property, Father James Joubert and Elizabeth Lange founded the Oblate Sisters of Providence—a religious order of black women dedicated to educating the children of their race. This was the first order of black nuns anywhere in the world. The women began their novitiate in 1828; that the same year, they established St. Frances Academy, now the oldest existing school for blacks in Maryland.
Father Joubert, a French Sulpician priest, had come to Baltimore from Haiti, and soon became involved in black religious education at St. Mary's Seminary. Elizabeth Lange, an educated young black woman, had also fled the turmoil in Haiti and settled in Baltimore, in the Catholic, French-speaking area of present-day Seton Hill.
Distressed by the lack of educational opportunities for blacks, Elizabeth Lange conducted a school in her home for nearly ten years, assisted by another Caribbean refugee, Marie Magdeleine Balas. Lack of funds finally forced the school to close.
Shortly thereafter, Father Joubert proposed that a new school be established and made secure by the creation of a black female teaching order. His daring proposal was eagerly accepted by the two women, and, under his spiritual direction, a small community of black women
was organized in June, 1828. In 1829, the women took their vows in the chapel of St. Mary's Seminary.
Despite financial difficulties and sporadic violence from a hostile community the convent and school survived, assisted in turn by the Sulpicians, Redemptorists, Jesuits and Josephites.
In 1870 the convent and school moved to this building, designed by George Frederick, architect of Baltimore City Hall.
(Inscriptions under the two photos on the left) Elizabeth Lange; Father Joubert