Venerable Henriette Delille, 1812 - 1862 “Servant of Slaves”
(excerpt from the Henriette Delille brochure)

In this piece, the reader will be told about Henriette Delille, what she did, why she is important, and why she is a candidate for sainthood.

Born in 1812, Henriette Delille was a real life person like you and me. She was born a free woman of color and lived her life in New Orleans, Louisiana. Henriette was surrounded by family and friends.

Among Henriette's relatives was her great, great grandmother who was a slave from West Africa. Her mother and the other women in her family followed the plaçage system. This means colored women "in concubinage" with wealthy white men. In recent findings, in funeral records, though unsubstantiated, Henriette may have given birth to two sons who died before the age of three. She had one sister and two brothers, one of whom died in infancy. Descendants have been found and are in touch with the Sisters. 

When Henriette was 24 years old, she underwent a religious experience. This religious experience is expressed in a brief declaration of faith and love. On the flyleaf of a book centered on the Eucharist, is a profession of love, in her own handwriting. Written in French: "Je crois en Dieu. J'espère en Dieu. J'aime. Je v[eux] vivre et mourir pour Dieu."

In 1836 Henriette drew up the rules and regulations for devout Christian women, which would eventually become the Society of the Holy Family. The group was foundedfor the purpose of nursing the sick, caring for the poor, and instructing the ignorant.  

1842 is the date for the founding of the Sisters of the Holy Family for the same purposes. Henriette was assisted by her friends, Juliette Gaudin and Josephine Charles. Records show that these women served as godmothers to many: slaves, free, children, and adults. They also witnessed many marriages.

With a three pronged program and a set of carefully drawn up rules, they expressed their apostolic intentions through caring for the sick, helping the poor, and instructing the ignorant of their people, free and enslaved, children and adults, in the name of Jesus Christ and the Church. 

They took into their home elderly women who needed more than visitation, and thereby opened America's first Catholic home for the elderly of its kind, as recorded in the National Register. Noteworthy are the heroic efforts of the early Sisters who cared for the sick and the dying during the yellow fever epidemics that struck New Orleans in 1853 and 1897.

In the eyes of the world Henriette may not have accomplished much, but her obituary and the Catholic Church tell us otherwise. “ . . . (Henriette) devoted herself untiringly for many years, without reserve, to the religious instruction of the people of New Orleans, principally of slaves. . . .” The last line of her obituary reads, ". . . for the love of Jesus Christ she had become the humble and devout servant of the slaves.”

Because she lived such a holy, prayerful, and virtuous life, we, the Sisters of the Holy Family, wanted to present her to the world as a model of a true Christian. Therefore, we asked, from the Catholic Church, permission to begin a canonization process. Through the efforts of the late Archbishop Philip Hannan, this request was granted by Blessed John Paul II in 1988. The Church then declared her "Servant of God."  

The process to sainthood has four phases: servant of God, venerable, blessed, and saint. Two of the phases, servant of God and venerable, are complete. Venerable was decreed by Pope Benedict XVI March 27, 2010.  

Venerable Henriette Delille is the first United States native born African American whose cause for canonization has been officially opened by the Catholic Church. What remains for the process to be complete is the validation of an alleged miracle which is now being processed. If all goes well and Pope Benedict XVI issues the decree of the alleged miracle's authenticity, then Henriette will be proclaimed blessed.  

What follows is a glorious ceremony and celebration in New Orleans. A second miracle would be needed for sainthood. 

Venerable Henriette Delille lived her prayer: "I believe in God. I hope in God. I love. I want to live and die for God." 

Please join us in praying for her beatification.
Henriette Delille is the first United States native-born African American whose cause for canonization has been officially opened by the Catholic Church. 


Henriette Delille, born in New Orleans, Louisiana in 1812, was a real-life person like you and me.  She lived all of her life in New Orleans and had family and friends. 
Henriette was very devout and loved God very much.  Because of her love for Jesus and for the sake of the Gospel, she was determined to help those in need. 
Henriette, as she made her way through life, bore many crosses, encountered obstacles, and suffered personal illness.
By her example she taught us that perseverance and sanctity can be attained by  following the path of Jesus.  It was in this manner that she dealt with her major obstacles and troubles to achieve her goals.    
Some of the troubles Henriette Delille  faced were the resistance of the ruling population to the idea of a black religious congregation;  the lack of finances to more fully serve those in need; the taunts and disbelief of people in her mission; the lack of support from both the Church and civil authority and poor health.
However, Henriette practiced heroic virtue.  She had faith, lived in hope and love, was compassionate, forgiving, and merciful. She believed in justice and was not afraid to do what was right in the eyes of God.
God blessed her efforts and in 1842, she founded the Congregation of the Sisters of the Holy Family.
Henriette died November 17, 1862.  Her funeral was held at St. Augustine Church.
Her obituary states, “. . . Miss Henriette Delille had for long years consecrated herself totally to God without reservation to the instruction of the ignorant and principally to the slave . . . .” 
“…Worn out by work, she died at the age of 50 years . . . . The crowd gathered for her funeral testified by its sorrow how keenly felt was the loss of her who for the love of Jesus Christ had made
herself the humble servant of slaves.”
The following is Henriette’s prayer that inspired her courage to found the Congregation of the Sisters of the Holy Family.
Venerable Henriette Delille
1812-1842
“I believe in God.  I hope in God. I love. 
I want to live and die for God.”

SISTERS OF THE HOLY FAMILY
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Venerable Henriette Delille