Popes, Saints, Archbishops, and Nuns

Who were the Oblate Sisters of Providence?

On July 2, 1829, the first permanent order of black Catholic nuns, the Oblate Sisters of Providence, was founded in Baltimore, Maryland. The order was founded through the efforts of a French priest, James Joubert, and four women of Caribbean origin—Elizabeth Lange, Rosine Boegues, Mary Frances Balas, and Mary Theresa Duchemin. This teaching order was formally recognized on October 2, 1831. The sisters opened the first Catholic school for girls in 1843. The school survives today as Mount Providence Junior College, established in 1952. The second order founded was the Sisters of the Holy Family. Henriette Delille and Juliette Gaudin founded the order in New Orleans in 1842; that order was not officially recognized until after the Civil War. The third predominantly black order was the Franciscan Handmaids of the Most Pure Heart of Mary, founded in Savannah, Georgia, in 1916. At the invitation of Cardinal Patrick Hayes, the Handmaids moved to Harlem in 1924 at the time that many blacks were relocating there. The cardinal saw a need for a day nursery for the children of working parents and the Handmaids responded by opening the St. Benedict Day Nursery, now their primary charity. They also operate a summer sleep-away camp on Staten Island. The order is located on West 124th Street between Lenox and Fifth Avenues. In its heyday, over eighty Handmaids of Mary were members of the order. By 2001 the oldest member of the order was Sister Mary Joseph, who was 101 years old. In October 2001 the Handmaids celebrated their eighty-fifth anniversary.


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