Serving as the finger of God

By Patrice Tuohy and Carol Schuck Scheiber. Photos by André Chung. The Oblate Sisters of Providence want the world to feel the touch of God’s love, and they’re working on it one child at a time.

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Image: SISTER BRENDA Cherry, O.S.P. rocks Azariah Yarbrough-Hutchins to sleep. Sister Brenda is director of the Mt. Providence Child Development Center.

SISTER M. VIRGINIE Fish, O.S.P. and Sister Aracelly Salazar,  O.S.P. share a joke. Communal bonds play an important role in  sustaining the sisters in ministry to the poor.
SISTER M. VIRGINIE Fish, O.S.P. and Sister Aracelly Salazar, O.S.P. share a joke. Communal bonds play an important role in sustaining the sisters in ministry to the poor.

THE OBLATE SISTERS of Providence don’t let things like poverty or racism distract them. As the first order of sisters of African decent successfully established in the Catholic Church, the community has faced abuse and intolerance from all quarters since its inception in 1829 and has struggled to gather the financial support it needs to conduct its main ministry: the education of children of color.

Despite their many challenges during the past 180 years, the Oblate Sisters of Providence have endured and thrived. They devote themselves to educating poor children in the U.S. and Costa Rica, and have a special ministry to the victims of poverty, racism, and injustice.

Their foundress, Elizabeth Lange, an immigrant of Haitian decent, was passionate that Haitian refugee children hear the word of God and receive an education. With the help of several other women, Lange began teaching children in her home. She was eventually encouraged to found a religious community by Sulpician Father James Joubert and the Archbishop of Baltimore, James Whitfield, who said of the women’s ministry: “In this work is the finger of God.”

Sister Lucia Quesada helps a student add color to her masterpiece at the Mt. Providence Child Development Center.
SISTER LUCIA Quesada helps a student add color to her masterpiece at the Mt. Providence Child Development Center.

Today the Oblate Sisters, 100-strong, continue to run St. Francis Academy in Baltimore, the school first started by their founder. They draw strength from the courage and faith of the women who have gone before them, from their community life, and from the unwavering conviction that God provides.

André Chung, photojournalistAndré Chung has been a photojournalist for more than 20 years and is a founding member of Iris PhotoCollective. He is on the web at www.achungphoto.com.

Patrice Tuohy and Carol Schuck Scheiber are VISION editors.

2009 © TrueQuest Communications

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