Mother Mary Elizabeth Lange, a Black nun who founded the country’s first African American religious order in Baltimore, just reached the next step on the path to sainthood. The Vatican announced Thursday that Pope Francis signed a decree that declared Lange venerable, affirming that she lived a life of heroic virtues.

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Next, the Catholic Church will need to attribute a miracle to her in order for her to become beatified. The approval of a second miracle will mean she is canonized and declared a saint.

Lange was born in Cuba and came to Baltimore in the early 1800s. She recognized the lack of education among children of color and used her own money and home to provide schooling. Lange founded St. Frances Academy in 1828.

“She was determined to respond to that need in spite of being a black woman in a slave state long before the Emancipation Proclamation,” according to a website dedicated to her cause for canonization.

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Lange, along with three other women, took vows of poverty, chastity and obedience to Archbishop James Whitfield in 1829, and founded the Oblate Sisters of Providence. She served as superior general within the congregation for two separate terms. While Lange and other nuns focused on the religious and broader education of Black children, they also helped orphans and widows, nursed people back to health during the cholera epidemic and did domestic work at St. Mary’s Seminary.

The Oblates run the Mother Mary Lange Guild, welcoming support from those interested in working with them to keep her legacy alive and advocate for her canonization. Lange died in 1882, and over 100 years later, in 1991, a formal investigation into her life was opened to jump-start her cause for canonization.

As part of the sainthood process, Lange’s remains were exhumed and examined before being placed in the Oblate Sisters’ motherhouse chapel in 2013. The Oblates had a ceremony to celebrate the 10-year anniversary earlier this month. In addition to the Oblate Sisters of Providence, remnants of Lange’s legacy remain in Baltimore, including St. Frances Academy, which is still educating students, and Mother Mary Lange Catholic School, which opened in 2021 on Martin Luther King Boulevard.