Anniversary Mass to honor co-founder of IMH Sisters

RELIGION NOTES

September 08, 1995|By Reported by Frank P. L. Somerville

When a Roman Catholic order of nuns celebrates its 150th anniversary with a Mass at the Basilica of the Assumption tomorrow, it will honor its co-founder, a native of Baltimore, whose place in Catholic history was suppressed for many years because her mother was black.

The order is the Congregation of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, known as the IMH Sisters.

Marie Almaide Theresa Maxis Duchemin was born in 1810. She never knew her father, Arthur Howard, a British army officer who had been stationed in Baltimore, and she did not take his name.

Her mother, a Creole immigrant from Haiti, was Betsy Maxis, but Almaide Theresa was raised by the Duchemin family in Baltimore's Dominican community and attended Masses for "persons of color" in the basement of the Sulpician seminary, St. Mary's, on Paca Street.

Joining the new Oblate Sisters of Providence, she was one of the first four black women in the United States to take religious vows.

In the early 1840s, at a time of crisis for Baltimore's Oblates, she moved to a mission at Monroe on the Michigan frontier, where in 1845 she helped found the IMH Sisters.

However, racial discrimination by three bishops, Peter Paul jTC Lefevre of Detroit, James Frederic Wood of Philadelphia and William O'Hara of Scranton, Pa., eventually forced her into exile in Canada, where the Grey Nuns of Ottawa took her in.

Typical of the racism she experienced was what Bishop Wood wrote to Bishop Lefevre: "If you take the pains to go and see Mother Theresa and Sister Ann and converse with them a little, you will soon discover in them, notwithstanding their advanced age, all the softness, slyness and low cunning of the mulatto."

As late as 1932, Cardinal Dennis Dougherty of Philadelphia was keeping out of a history of the Detroit diocese the "embarrassing" fact that Mother Theresa and Sister Ann had originally belonged to Baltimore's Oblate Sisters of Providence and, in the cardinal's words, "it is alleged were mulattoes, or at least had a strain of Negro blood in their veins."

At tomorrow's 1 p.m. anniversary Mass in Baltimore's Basilica, at Cathedral and Mulberry streets, there will be prayers for forgiveness for this history of prejudice as well as a celebration of the IMH Sisters' many years of educational, health care and social service ministries in 34 states, the District of Columbia and nine foreign countries.

Information: (717) 346-5404

Youth honored

Youthful participants in a summer project to help the needy of Appalachia, known as Camp Joy, will worship with their adult sponsors and mentors at 11 a.m. Sunday at West Baltimore United Methodist Church, 5130 Greenwich Ave.

For a week in July, the young campers painted and repaired homes of poor, elderly and disabled residents in the Hancock area.

Information: 945-8397.

Rededication

Eighteen colorful stained-glass windows that once decorated the sanctuary of Ohr Knesseth Israel Sphar -- the old Rogers Avenue synagogue -- have been reinstalled in the lobby of Beth Jacob Congregation.

The public is invited to a rededication of the windows at 4 p.m. Sunday at Beth Jacob, 5713 Park Heights Ave.

Information: 466-1266.

For the divorced

Valley Baptist Church at 1401 York Road in Lutherville is forming a support group for people who are divorced or separated.

A series of seminars on subjects such as "Facing Your Anger," "Depression," "New Relationships" and "Forgiveness" will begin at the church at 7 p.m. Wednesday.

Information: 321-6257.

Unity Day

The Rev. Therm James, pastor of Bethany Baptist Church, will preach and Bethany's choirs will sing during the sixth annual Unity Day celebration at 4 p.m. Sunday at Shiloh Christian Community Church, 2500 W. Lombard St.

Music also will be provided by Shiloh's Chancel Choir under the direction of William H. Sydnor. The public is invited.

Information: 945-8730.

Scroll ceremony

A new Sefer Torah, a handwritten scroll of the five Books of Moses, will be carried in an outdoor procession at 3 p.m. Sunday at Suburban Orthodox Congregation Toras Chaim, 7504 Seven Mile Lane. Information: 484-6114.

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