For 185 years the first school operated by the Oblate Sisters of Providence has maintained a strong and consistent tradition of serving disenfranchised young people - the enslaved, the orphaned, the segregated, the immigrant, the poor.
Saint Frances Academy's founding mission was to teach girls of color. [Note - it was never illegal in Maryland to teach a slave or free person - even though it was a slave state] Established by a Sulpician priest and four founding members of the Oblate Sisters of Providence, the school opened its doors on June 13, 1828 under the name Saint Frances School for Colored Girls. Starting in the 1850s they began using name Saint Frances Academy and the original name. By the late 1800s Saint Frances Academy (SFA) was used exclusively and continues today.
The school was in three previous locations prior to moving to its present location in 1871 on East Chase Street. The main building also served as a convent, an orphanage, a dormitory, and a school for young women. In the mid-1970's the school's living space was converted into classrooms, the convent was moved to nearby Brentwood Avenue, and Saint Frances Academy redefined itself as a co-educational high school and as an informal center of community activities. In 2002, the Saint Frances Academy campus expanded with a new 33,000 square foot facility housing additional classrooms, new computer labs, a health suite, meeting rooms, and gymnasium. Enrollment has more than doubled in the last fifteen years, to 325 from 140.
Mother Mary Lange, OSP is the primary foundress of the Oblate Sisters of Providence and Saint Frances Academy. She is currently a candidate for sainthood by the Catholic Church and is considered a Servant of God. She, and the sisters who followed her, trusted in God's Providence to guide and sustain them through difficult times. With God's blessings, and the support of thousands who also believed in their vision, the Oblate Sisters of Providence overcame enormous economic challenges, and racial intolerance to continue the work they so strongly believed in through the years.
Obstacles did not evaporate over time for Mother Lange, the Oblate Sisters, and the lay faculty of future years. With each new generation came a new set of challenges; another compelling struggle. In the 1800's children suffered because slavery degraded individuals, divided families, and inhibited almost all educational pursuits. Segregation was the significant societal barrier for Saint Frances after the Civil War and through much of the 20th century. Today's negative forces are drugs and violence. These factors corrupt the emotional, spiritual, and academic growth of SFA students.
Since its inception, Saint Frances Academy has addressed the societal forces disrupting the potential of children and their families. The administration and faculty formed a tradition of improving confidence, providing emotional support, and helping young people dream beyond themselves through academics. Saint Frances Academy has embraced struggle, encouraged hope, and provided opportunity. In the midst of such devastation, the achievements of SFA students are beyond impressive. The efforts and accomplishments of today's St. Frances Academy "make us marvel."
Willa Young Banks, "A Contradiction in Antebellum Baltimore: A Competitive School for Girls of 'Color' within a Slave State," Maryland Historical Magazine 99, no. 2 (Summer 2004): 134.