Sunday, August 7, 2011

Took Risks to Follow Christ - Educated Women of Color in 1829

This story was told by Sister Mary Steven from the Oblate Sisters of Providence (Baltimore Maryland).  In 1829, when slavery was still legal in the U.S., it was against the law to educate slaves, and it was against Catholic precedent to allow women of color to serve as nuns. 

Father James Joubert was the only one of his noble French family to escape massacre during the French Revolution, and he fled to the US, where he decided to become a priest.  He became associated with an existing catechismal school which educated freed black girls.  Because of the poor support for educating blacks, these children often could not read their homework. He well understood that bucking social norms can sometimes end in death, and despite that, he risked his own safety to throw the support of his religious order behind this school.

Similarly, two black Caribbean women living in Baltimore, Elizabeth Lange and Marie Balas, risked their safety for the same cause.  They had founded the school 11 years earlier against stiff resistance from many parts of society. 

When Father Joubert offered his religious order's support, the women wanted to go out even further on a limb by wanting to become the world's very first black Catholic nuns.  They founded the Oblate Sisters of Providence in that year, and became nuns. 

During the 1830's, the group were under constant threat by anti-Catholic rioters in Baltimore.  They also persisted despite later losing the support of Joubert's religious order, despite poverty, and despite racism. 

The Oblates are still at work in Baltimore today. 

I'd like to comment that when you see such a strong willingness to bear great suffering for the sake of loving the vulnerable, there must be some very real and very meaningful motivation in those people.  In the case of Joubert, Lange and Balas, that motivation was Jesus.

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