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Archdiocese of Baltimore opens city’s first Catholic school in more than 50 years

The Archdiocese of Baltimore cut the ribbon this week on the Mother Mary Lange Catholic School, the city’s first new Catholic school in more than 50 years.

The school, which is located along the 200 block of N. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in West Baltimore’s Poppleton neighborhood, is named for Baltimore’s own Mary Elizabeth Lange, a Black woman who emigrated from Cuba in the early 1800s. Lange established the Oblate Sisters of Providence, the first religious order for women of African descent, and devoted herself to educating and serving the needs of Black youth and adults.

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“When you come into this building, there are so many rooms and windows where you can see out into the community,” said Alisha Jordan, the school’s new principal. “I think that’s what [Mother Mary Lange] would have wanted.”

Oblate Sisters of Providence (left to right) Sister Magdala Marie Gilbert, Sister Mary Alexis Fisher, Sister Mary Stephen Beauford and Sister Mary Pauine Tamakloe tour the gym at the new Mother Mary Lange Catholic School, the first Catholic school built in Baltimore in 60 years, which was officially opened today. August 6, 2021
Oblate Sisters of Providence (left to right) Sister Magdala Marie Gilbert, Sister Mary Alexis Fisher, Sister Mary Stephen Beauford and Sister Mary Pauine Tamakloe tour the gym at the new Mother Mary Lange Catholic School, the first Catholic school built in Baltimore in 60 years, which was officially opened today. August 6, 2021 (Barbara Haddock Taylor)

Catholic leaders and educators hope the elementary-middle school will function as an anchor for the surrounding community. The neighborhood is located in the shadow of the “Highway to Nowhere” — a 1.2 mile roadway that was never fully completed but led to the demolition of thousands of Black-owned homes.

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The Archdiocese broke ground in October 2019 on the $24 million building, which was designed to be a “21st century school” complete with 3D printers, drones and robotics for student use.

The school is part of the archdiocese’s strategic plan to consolidate two older schools into a brand new educational facility, said Archbishop William E. Lori.

In recent years, the archdiocese closed numerous Catholic schools in the city because of declining enrollment and costly infrastructure. That decision left a void in an area that’s been plagued by poverty and crime, officials said in 2018.

Catholic school enrollment has since rebounded during the pandemic, which Lori attributes to their speed in reopening faster than some public schools in the region.

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More than 400 students, including some from the now-closed Holy Angels and Saints James and John Catholic schools, are enrolled at Mother Mary Lange to begin pre-kindergarten through eighth grade on Aug. 30. The school has attracted families from across 70 ZIP codes, and more than 100 students are coming from within the school’s neighborhood.

Catholic leaders anticipate offering tuition assistance for between 80% and 90% of the student population. The school is also partnering with the University of Maryland to offer wraparound services — such as dental care — to students and families, Jordan said.

The principal spent the summer giving school tours to families, some of whom had enrolled their children on faith alone before the building was finished.

“They’re ready to be a part of history,” Jordan said.

Archbishop William E . Lori, left, blesses the lobby of the new Mother Mary Lange Catholic School, the first Catholic school built in Baltimore in 60 years, during its official opening this morning. August 6, 2021
Archbishop William E . Lori, left, blesses the lobby of the new Mother Mary Lange Catholic School, the first Catholic school built in Baltimore in 60 years, during its official opening this morning. August 6, 2021 (Barbara Haddock Taylor)

She also reached out to neighbors and worked hard to cement the school’s culture as a unifying place.

“Yes, we’re new, but we’re part of the community,” Jordan said. “Schools will bring people together. That’s the anchor. We’re here. Send your children here.”

The ribbon cutting for the new building attracted state and local lawmakers including Gov. Larry Hogan and Mayor Brandon Scott, both of whom celebrated seeing educational investments.

Meanwhile, Catholic leaders in Rome are still considering Lange’s cause for sainthood. If canonized, Lange would become the first Black American saint.

At the ribbon cutting, the Archbishop joked that Rome need only look to Baltimore’s newest Catholic school as evidence of Mother Mary Lange’s miracles.

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