"Henriette Delille, a descendant of slaves, is the first US-born black whose cause for Canonization has been officially opened by the Roman Catholic Church. At the early age of 14, she was one of ten black girls who taught religion to the slaves of old New Orleans (which was illegal at the time). Her family, however, had other plans. She
was born to an ancestral quadroon family who trained and supplied women to be the mistresses of white men - which Henriette refused to do, since she wished to be a nun.
In 1836 she and another woman tried to establish an interracial religious community, but found great resistance in the laws of the time which forbad whites and blacks from living together or developing formal contractual agreements. This setback only made her more determined. Her biography states that she believed that "One day, somehow, she, a woman of African descent, would be a nun in New Orleans, the slave mart of the country, where her people were in distress and no one was going to persuade her to go elsewhere or do anything else."
Henriette’s dream came closer to reality in 1842 when she and two other formed a "pious union" which eventually came to be known as the Sisters of the Holy Family. The group cared for people who were elderly, orphaned, illiterate, sick, dying and the poor of her own race. In 1852 this group took formal vows for the first time, and in 1870 were recognized by the church as a religious community. Still, it was not until 1872 that they were allowed to wear a habit, so controversial was their group.
One nun of her order, Sr. Sylvia Thibodeaux said "Without her courage and strong faith, this community would not have existed. We revere her memory ands want the universal church to share in the beauty of her life ..."
Her life commitment continued to inspire controversy in every part of New Orleans. Quadroons thought she was rebellious and stubborn. Whites thought she was uppity because she aspired to a life that they had reserved for white women. The Sisters of her order were ridiculed by women and sexually harassed by white men. The institutional Church regarded their work as "harmless" religious education of blacks. The city regarded their work as defiance. The black men and women of new Orleans regarded them as "family" - a holy family who comforted, fed, housed and educated the disinherited of American society.
Henriette died in 1862 - but her dream lives on in the 250 Sisters of the Holy Family working in 4 states, and Belize, Central America. Her story has now piqued the interest of Hollywood (to her supporters dismay) - entertainer Vanessa Williams portrayed Sister Henriette Delille in a 1999 made-for-TV movie about Henriette’s life called "The Quadroon Ball". Rev. Cyprian Davis has written a comprehensive biography of her life. The first step in the process to have her declared "Venerable" by the Catholic Church has begun.
But whatever the world or formal church decides about Henriette, there is no doubt that before God and the world, she was a strong black Catholic woman of faith - a model of "God overcoming".
The above graphic and the following prayer for the canonization of Sister Henriette Delille are from the website indicated below.
O good and gracious God, you called Henriette Delille to give herself in service and in love to the slaves and the sick, to the orphan and the aged, to the forgotten and the despised. Grant that inspired by her life we might be renewed in heart and mind. If it be your will, may she one day be raised to the honor of sainthood. By her prayers may we live in harmony and peace. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.""
Thank you for celebrating with us and remember... KEEP ON KEEPIN' ON!
Evangelist Richard Lane, Qorban Ministries