Over the past few years, fueled by declining enrollment that has been heavily influenced by the COVID-19 pandemic, hundreds of Catholic schools around the country have been forced to shut their doors.
However, as a new school year begins, not all news is bleak. For the first time in 60 years, the Archdiocese of Baltimore is opening a new school. Mother Mary Lange Catholic School is a state-of-the-art pre-K through grade eight school for 400 inner city, mostly non-Catholic students. A ribbon cutting to open the school was held Aug. 6, and classes will begin Aug. 30 at the former site of the notorious Lexington Terrace Housing Project, a featured location in the gritty HBO show “The Wire.”
After the Terrace was demolished, the archdiocese purchased the land on the near west side of the city, and Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore and others prayed to find a use for it that would benefit the community that had been a hotbed of drug trafficking, murder and crime.
“We must believe in Baltimore and the residents of Baltimore,” Archbishop Lori said, “and this school is an expression of that belief.” Lori said.
The 65,000-square-foot school will receive students from 40 zip codes around the city and nearby counties, including those who attended three Catholic schools that are consolidating into Mother Mary Lange.
Principal Alisha Jordan, who has served as a teacher and administrator in archdiocese schools, was elected by the Oblate Sisters of Providence.
“A building is a shell and not a school until the children arrive,” Jordan said. “I hope that we have a welcoming atmosphere, and families are always welcome. The spiritual mindset is in the Catholic tradition. We will teach religion every single day and have Gospel readings every day.”
Servant of God Mother Mary Elizabeth Lange was born in Haiti and arrived in Baltimore from Cuba in 1829. She opened the first Catholic school for children of color in her home in the Fells Point neighborhood, founded St. Frances Academy, the first and oldest continually operating Black Catholic educational facility in the United States, and formed the first religious community of women of African descent.
“I recognize this school is the product of much prayer and discernment and reflection on Mother Mary’s presence and ministry and example,” said Archbishop Lori, who noted that her cause for canonization, which began in 1991, is progressing. He suggested that one of the two miracles necessary for canonization very well could be “this very building.”
Jim Sellinger, chancellor of the Department of Catholic Schools, started the master plan that resulted in Mother Lange School four years ago.
“The genesis was our belief that the underserved children of these neighborhoods deserved a Catholic school education,” said Sellinger, who added that “these kids should have the same opportunity to hope, learn and achieve.”
Jaylah Golder, an eighth-grade student, spoke at the ribbon-cutting ceremony.
“I look forward to spending time in the robotics lab, gym, and enjoying the other resources that the school has to offer,” she said. “I intend to follow in the footsteps of Mother Lange by leading others to do good and trying my best to stand up for those who aren’t big enough to stand up for themselves. I hope to set an example for the other students of a Christ-like yet fun-filled life.”
Archbishop Lori listened to Jaylah Golder speak at the ribbon-cutting ceremony and said: “She was very good and had all the poise in the world, and she got a standing ovation. I thought, this is why we built this school and how we can tap into their God given potential and help them become the people God intended.”
Joseph R. LaPlante writes from Rhode Island.