Feast of Louise Cecilia Fleming (January 22)   Leave a comment

Above:  Flag of the Congo Free State

Image in the Public Domain



African-American Baptist Missionary and Physician

Louise “Lulu” Cecilia Fleming comes to this, A Great Cloud of Witnesses:  An Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days, via G. Scott Cady and Christopher L. Webber, A Year with American Saints (2006).

Fleming, born a slave on Fleming Island, Florida, on January 10, 1862, became a physician and a missionary.  Our saint’s grandfather was Lewis Fleming, owner of the Hibernia Plantation, Fleming Island.  Her father–perhaps David Fleming–was a slave who escaped to the North and enlisted in the United States Army during the Civil War.  Our saint’s mother was a maid in the plantation house.  The Flemings–free and enslaved–attended the old Bethel Baptist Church, Jacksonville.  In 1865 the majority African-American congregation divided after the white minority failed to expel the African-American members.  The white members formed First Baptist Church.  The African-American members became Bethel Baptist Institutional Church.

Lulu became a teacher then a missionary.  She, educated at the Stanton Institute, Jacksonville, worked as a public school teacher in St. Augustine from 1878 to 1882.  She also taught Sunday School during those years.  The Reverend Rufus B. Kelsay (1842-1896), pastor of Sixth Avenue Baptist Church, Brooklyn, New York, met our saint in St. Augustine.  He, impressed with her zeal for missionary work, arranged for the financing necessary for her to study at Shaw University, Raleigh, North Carolina.  She became the valedictorian of her class in 1885.  After the Women’s American Baptist Foreign Missionary Society denied Fleming’s request to become a missionary in 1885, our saint returned to Florida.  There she worked as an organizer in the temperance movement and as a journalist for the International Order of Good Templars.  Then, in 1886, Fleming became the first African-American missionary the Women’s Baptist Foreign Missionary Society of the West hired.  She prepared for her assignment to the Congo Free State (later Belgian Congo and now the Democratic Republic of the Congo by attending lectures at the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania in 1886 and 1887.  Lulu arrived at the Palabala mission station in the Congo Free State on May 20, 1887.

Above:  Congo Free State

Image in the Public Domain

Fleming’s first stint as a missionary to the Congo Free State lasted from 1887 to 1891.  She, officially a teacher, also preached and provided medical care.  Furthermore, our saint sent three Congolese youth to Shaw University in 1888.  Failing health forced Fleming to return to the United States in 1891.

Fleming spent 1891-1895 in the United States.  After studying at the Leonard Medical School of Shaw University (1891-1892), she rested on Fleming Island for about a year.  From 1893 to 1895, our saint studied at the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania.  She became the school’s first African-American female graduate.

Fleming’s second stint as a missionary to the Congo Free State lasted from 1895 to 1899.  She, working under the auspices of the Women’s Baptist Foreign Missionary Society (East), went deeper into the interior the second time.  Our saint, stationed first at Irebu (1895-1898) then at Bolengi (1898-1899), contracted African sleeping sickness in 1899.

Fleming, aged 37 years, returned to the United States for the last time.  She died at Samaritan Hospital, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on June 20, 1899.

Fleming followed Jesus to the end.





Almighty and everlasting God, we thank you for your servant Louise Cecilia Fleming,

whom you called to preach the Gospel to the people of the Congo Free State.

Raise up in this and every land evangelists and heralds of your kingdom,

that your Church may proclaim the unsearchable riches of our Savior Jesus Christ;

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

Isaiah 52:7-10

Psalm 96 or 96:1-7

Acts 1:1-9

Luke 10:1-9

–Adapted from Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), 716


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