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 founded for 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.