Archdiocese considering proposal to name new Baltimore school after Mother Lange

Archbishop William E. Lori is considering a proposal to name a soon-to-be-built school in West Baltimore after Mother Lange, who established the country’s first Catholic school for black children.

The idea to name the school after Lange was suggested by Ralph Moore in a letter to The Baltimore Sun.

Moore grew up hearing the story of Mother Lange from the nuns who taught him at Catholic school in Baltimore. Naming the school for Lange would be a “very tiny step” in the direction of healing in the wake of both racism and sexual abuses by clergy members, he said.

“This archdiocese owes the African-American community,” Moore said. “They have imposed segregation unapologetically for years and years and years, and we have remained faithful as black Catholics.”

The school originally was going to be named after the late Cardinal William Keeler. That plan was nixed in the wake of a Pennsylvania grand jury’s report that said Keeler allowed a priest accused of multiple sex offenses to resume his ministry in Baltimore.

Lori called the “painful revelations” in the grand jury report this month “a cause for anger, disillusion and pain among many in our church.”

It’s still too early to say whether the school will be named for Lange, said Sean Caine, a spokesman for the archdiocese, but “I know the archbishop [Lori] is definitely open to the idea.”

Moore’s proposal has gained support from many in the Catholic community, particularly among black Catholics, Caine said.

“This is a school that will serve a primarily African-American community,” Caine said. “It makes good sense to name it after one of the most important and well-known figures in the history of the black Catholic church.”

Born in the Caribbean, Mary Elizabeth Lange moved to Baltimore in the early 1800s and opened a free school for black children in Fells Point. She is currently on the path to canonization and could become the first ever black American saint.

“She was an absolutely extraordinary woman,” Deacon Vito S. Piazza of St. Mary’s Chapel in Baltimore told The Sun last year.

At a time when much of Baltimore’s black population was enslaved and racism ran rampant, Lange founded the Oblate Sisters of Providence, the first order of black nuns in modern history. Their school became St. Frances, the oldest Catholic school for children of color in the United States.

A Baltimore school named for Mother Lange was shut down in 2010 to the indignation of many in the community. Moore said. Naming the new school after Lange would be a gesture of good faith toward African-Americans, he said.

Caine defended the archdiocese’s initial plan to name the school after Keeler, given his contributions to education in the city, but said it was no longer appropriate, given the content of the grand jury report.

“Now we have the opportunity to start fresh,” Caine said.

He added that the archdiocese has approximately $2 million more to raise before the school will come to fruition.

“Perhaps the name that will be chosen will help energize people around the idea of the first Catholic school to be built in Baltimore in over 60 years,” he said.

ctkacik@baltsun.com

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