Families, former students and friends of the Oblate Sisters of Providence filled Holy Comforter Church on East Capitol Street SE last Sunday to honor the 150th anniversary of the order, the first black religious community in the United States.

"Imagine what it was like for a small group of women to serve the black community of 150 years ago," said the Rev. John Ricard in his homily at Sunday's mass.

"The families which they encountered were different from the families we know today," he continued. "They were uprooted, and individuals were treated like property. These women had a lot of what is called divine madness. They were foolish enough to try to do the impossible and 150 years later we can say it worked."

"We know today more than ever the church needs us," Sister Marie Invanta Gonzales, superior general of the order, told the congregation.

The mass in honor of the 21 Oblate Sisters of the local diocese was celebrated by Bishop Eugene Marino, auxiliary bishop of Washington.

The Oblates, who are devoted primarily to elementary school education, were given property at the intersection of Eighth and C streets SE when they came to Washington. They established St. Ann's Convent there.

The 21 local Oblates currently teach in three Washington parish schools - St Benedict the Moor, Holy Comforter and St. Paul & Augustine.