Venerable Henriette Delille
Henriette Delille was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1812. She was a fourth-generation free woman of African heritage. Because her mother was of mixed race, Henriette’s white father was not, by the law of the time, allowed to marry her mother.
Henriette grew up in privilege and was well educated. As a young teenager, she began teaching at a school for girls of color. At the age of 17, she and two friends began working to bring the Catholic faith to the slaves and free people of color in the city. Delille was a frequent godmother to children baptized at St. Louis Cathedral in the heart of the city.
Henriette applied to join religious life with the Ursuline and Carmelite Sisters, but was refused because she admitted to being of mixed race.
But as other women joined Henriette and her friends, the community that evolved became known as the Sisters of the Holy Family. In addition to education, the Sisters worked in hospitals, in social work and with the sick elderly. This was at a time in history when educating black people could be punished by prison or even death.
Mother Henriette died in 1862, at the age of only 50. Her only recorded writing was penned in the inside cover of an 1836 prayer book: “I believe in God. I hope in God. I love God. I want to live and die for God.”
Today, her congregation’s more than 200 members operate schools for the poor and homes for the elderly in Louisiana and several other states, as well as in the Central American country of Belize.
Mother Henriette’s sainthood cause was opened in 1988, and the New Orleans archdiocesan investigation was completed in 2005. She is the first native-born Creole whose cause for sainthood has been officially recognized by the Church. She was declared “venerable” by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010.
Connecting to Be My Disciples®
Grade 6, chapter 23