The Sisters of the Holy Family was founded in 1842 to care for and educate free people of color and slaves in pre-Civil War New Orleans. The foundress, Henriette Delille, along with Juliette Gardin and Josephine Charles had to cross many barriers to eventually be recognized by the church as a religious organization for women of African descent.
Surrounded by the difficult times of slavery and injustices, instead of living a life of ease in the tradition of their female ancestors, Henriette, Juliette, and Josephine chose to follow God’s call to teach the slaves, care for the elderly, and shared whatever they had to help the poor and the needy. During the great pestilence of 1853, when children were left homeless, the sisters extended themselves and opened homes to take care of the orphans. Thus, in 1892 the St. John Berchman Orphanage was dedicated.
In 1897, during the yellow fever epidemic in New Orleans, the sisters stepped in and cared for the sick and homeless. This ministry eventually led to the establishment of Lafon Nursing Home, one of the oldest nursing homes in the United States. Eventually, it was moved to the Gentilly area. This area consisting of 123 acres came about during the administration of Mother Austin Jones in 1906 for $10 an acre. Through the inspiration and foresight of Mother Austin, this purchase of land allowed the sisters to move out of the heart of the city and form the cornerstone of their ministry to serve the community. It is there that you will find the Motherhouse, St. Mary’s Academy, Lafon Day Care Center, Delille Inn, and St. Paul the Apostle Church, which maintained a school at one time.
During the one-hundred seventy plus years of existence, the Sisters of the Holy Family have missions in Louisiana, Texas, and other states throughout the United States; also, Belize, Panama and Africa. Although times have changed and the number of sisters has dwindled in numbers, the continuance of the mission remains at the forefront.
Henriette Delille, will always be remembered as one who listened to God’s call and stepped out on faith during dangerous times to help the poor and needy. Therefore, in 1988, her cause for canonization was opened and in 2010 was honored with the title Venerable Henriette Delille. As the process for canonization continues, promotion of devotion to Henriette Delille plays a significant role. Any favors received through her intercession should be reported to the Sisters of the Holy Family:
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 is 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.