Henriette Delille’s canonization process was initiated in April 1988 by Archbishop Philip Hannan of New Orleans. It was reviewed by a special commission in Rome who gave permission to officially open the process in June 1988. On Saturday, March 27, 2010, Pope Benedict XVI signed a decree advancing the cause of sainthood of Henriette Delille, declaring that this exemplary woman lived a life of “heroic virtue” and declared her Venerable. Who was Henriette Delille that the Roman Catholic Church would recognize her as a woman of heroic virtue? Venerable Delille
set aside the life expected of her as a free Black woman in the 1840s to live for God. Many Black women in Louisiana in the nineteenth Century, including her family members, had suffered through the system of placage. By accepting the life of a mistress of a wealthy land or slave
owner, some Black women obtained for themselves and their children a measure of protection and even wealth. Henriette emphatically rejected participating in this form of slavery. She refused to participate in a life she found distasteful as the unrecognized wife of a wealthy white
Henriette Delille was a devout Catholic — one who worked fervently for the conversion of slaves
(Blacks) in New Orleans and devoted herself to God. In 1836, she wrote, “I believe in God. I hope
in God. I love. I want to live and die for God.” She became a frequent sponsor for those being
baptized, both in St. Louis Cathedral and St. Augustine Church. In addition, she was active in the
St. Claude School, an establishment founded for the education of young girls of color. With great
courage and determination, she started an order for women of mixed African descent in New
Orleans. On October 15, 1852, Henriette pronounced her vows with Juliette Gaudin and
Josephine Charles in St. Augustine Church. The group of women Henriette called together was
initially called the Congregation of the Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary from
1836-1841. After acceptance of the order by the Church in 1842, the community became the
Sisters of the Holy Family, a religious community for Black women. One of the first works of
charity the Sisters devoted themselves to was caring for the elderly and infirmed slaves in a
nursing home, Thomy Lafon Old Folks Home, one of the oldest nursing homes in the United
States. Lafon was almost completely destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, was refurbished
and remains operational. Delille directed the Sisters to evangelize the city’s slaves and the
poor. Her love of God and her fellow man lead her to share her faith with the poor and enslaved
and to establish an orphanage and school (Saint Mary’s Academy) for the Black children of New
Orleans. It remained open from 1881 to1964. Mother Delille and her sisters often gave their
food to the poor and lived through many hardships and trials. She remained undeterred, despite
illness, neglect from the official Church and intolerance in the community. Mother Delille died in
her convent November 16, 1862.
The Archdiocese of Galveston Houston was home to several missions served by the Sisters of the
Holy Family. Their service to the Archdiocese began in Galveston when they assumed the
teaching of students and providing for orphans at Holy Rosary Parish. The Sisters faithfully
served on the island from 1898 until the closing of the school in 1979. Our first African American
parish in Houston, St. Nicholas, was the site of the school where the Sisters educated many
members of the African American Catholic community from 1905 through 1971. Our Mother of
Mercy School in Houston was staffed by the Sisters of the Holy Family from 1930 through 2009.
The late Joe Sample and Texas Representative Harold Dutton are among the alumni of Our
Mother of Mercy School.
It is also noteworthy that the first alleged miracle attributed to Mother Delille’s intercession took
place in the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston. The cure of a four (4) year old Houston girl in
1998 from an overwhelming pulmonary infection is the first miracle that has been examined for
the canonization process. The miracle awaits approval from Rome.
The Archdiocese’s connection to Mother Delille continues today. One of the bells at the new Co-
Cathedral of the Sacred Heart was named for Henriette Delille. The first line reads, Mother
Henriette Delille; the second line has the donors’ names, Raye and Edward White Family; and the
last line reads: ”To the Honor and Glory of God.” The Congregation of the Sisters of the Holy
Family is proud and happy that Mother Delille has been remembered by the Archdiocese of
The road to sainthood is long and costly. Venerable Henriette Delille is the first United States
born African American whose cause for canonization has been officially opened by the Catholic
Church. Much research and inquiry have been conducted into her virtues and reputation of
sanctity. If the miracle is authenticated, Mother Delille will be declared Blessed. Supporters of
the Cause of Henriette Delille in the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston wish to assist the Sisters
of the Holy Family with encouraging people to ask for the intercession of Delille in prayers to
produce the miracles needed for canonization and to tell the story of this remarkable woman.
A Mass of Remembrance for Venerable Henriette Delille will be celebrated on Sunday, November
30, 2014, at 5:00 pm at St. Nicholas Catholic Church, 2508 Clay Street, Houston, TX 77003.
Special guest will be Sr. Sylvia Thibodeaux, Sisters of the Holy Family, New Orleans, one of five
Superior Generals who opened and supported the Cause of Henriette Delille. The public is invited
to attend the Mass of Remembrance.
Please contact Evelyn Wagner Wright at email@example.com for additional information.