April 16, 2018 – The legacies of a 19th-century African American education pioneer and the first black female religious order in the country were celebrated at an Emancipation Day event today at Georgetown.
Anne Marie Becraft, a free woman of color, founded one of the first schools for black girls in Georgetown in 1820. Eleven years later she became one of the country’s first black nuns with the Oblate Sisters of Providence (OSP) in Baltimore, Maryland, taking the name Sister Mary Aloysius.
In keeping with the recommendations of Georgetown’s Working Group on Slavery, Memory, and Reconciliation (SMR), the building once named for a priest involved with the 1838 sale of 272 enslaved people by the Maryland Jesuits was rededicated in April 2017 as Anne Marie Becraft Hall.
Marcia Chatelain, associate professor of history and African American studies at Georgetown, moderated a panel discussion with Marcia Hall, OSP vocation director, and Diane Batts Morrow, associate professor of history and African American studies at the University of Georgia.
“I’m struck by some of the ways that the Oblate sisters were, in many ways, doing the work that black women across the country were doing in terms of filling that gap between what the state provided and what people of color needed and between what the Catholic Church said and what they were actually doing to help people of color,” said Chatelain, who also served on Georgetown’s SMR working group. “We can understand that history as a place of faith.”
The Oblate Sisters order was established in 1828, the same year it opened St. Frances Academy, a Catholic school for black girls in Baltimore. St. Frances Academy is now the oldest continuously operating school for black Catholic children in the United States.
The religious order continues its work in Baltimore, Miami, Buffalo and Costa Rica.
“Their historical experience – their survival as a community of [religious] women … depended on …