Henriette Delille’s canonization process was initiated in April 1988 by Archbishop Philip Hannan of New Orleans read more…


The process was initiated when Archbishop Philip Hannan petitioned Rome to begin the process of canonization. read more…


The Sisters of the Holy Family was founded in 1842 to care for and educate read more…


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 until they were eventually recognized by the church as a religious organization for women of African descent.
The sisters opened orphanages, schools, and one of the oldest care establishments Lafon Nursing facility still operating today.
During its over 175 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. For many years, the Sisters of the Holy Family were deemed not worthy to wear habits and veils worn by their white counterparts. In 1876, they were finally allowed to wear their habit publicly. They continue to proudly and consistently wear their habits to this day.
In 1988, the Cause for the Canonization of Henriette Delille, foundress of the Sisters of the Holy Family, was opened and in 2010 Mother Delille was honored with the title Venerable Henriette Delille. As the process for canonization continues, the 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.


The process was initiated when Archbishop Philip Hannan petitioned Rome to begin the process of canonization


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 which 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. Venerable Delille set aside the life expected of her as a free Black woman in the 1840s to live for God.
Henriette Delille was born in 1812, to Marie-Josèphe, free woman of color. Her mother lived with a man named Jean-Baptiste, in what was known as the plaçage system. Through the plaçage system, some women of color were able to obtain for themselves and their children a small degree of protection and even wealth by being the mistress of a wealthy white man as opposed to civil or sacramental marriages with women of color. Henriette grew up with her siblings in New Orleans’ French Quarter. Her mother raised her children Roman Catholic and educated Henriette to be an accomplished young woman in preparation for her own marriage to a wealthy patron. However, Henriette had different plans for herself. She wanted to bring education to the poor girls of New Orleans and began teaching children around the city when she was still a teenager. Henriette emphatically rejected participating in this life by refusing to be someone’s unrecognized wife.
Who was Henriette Delille that the Roman Catholic Church would recognize her as a woman of heroic virtue? Henriette Delille was a devout Catholic 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. In 1835, Henriette’s mother had a nervous breakdown, and Henriette inherited all her mother’s assets. Henriette set aside enough money to continue caring for her mother and then sold all her mother’s remaining property. With the proceeds of this sale and her courage and determination, Henriette started an order for women of mixed African descent in New Orleans. The order’s mission to their people both free and enslaved was to nurse the sick, care for the poor and instruct the ignorant in the Catholic faith.
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 to 1841. After the Church accepted the order in 1842, the community became the Sisters of the Holy Family, a canonical 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 (Now called Lafon Nursing Facility, it was almost destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, was refurbished and remains operational to this day).
Delille directed the Sisters to evangelize the city’s slaves and the poor. Her love of God and her fellow man led 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. The Orphanage operated from 1881 to 1964. The school, St. Mary’s Academy, is a private Catholic K-12 school in New Orleans, Louisiana, run by the Sisters of the Holy Family. Founded in 1867, it is one of the oldest Black Catholic schools in the country. St. Mary’s admits girls and boys until grade 7 and admits only girls for grades 8-12. 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 of tuberculosis in her convent on November 16, 1862, during the civil war.
The road to sainthood is slow 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. Presently, there are two miracles attributed to the intercession of Mother Delille that are being studied by the Church. The first miracle attributed to Mother Delille’s intercession took place in the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston. The cure of a four-year-old Houston girl in 1998 from an overwhelming pulmonary infection. The second took place in Little Rock in 2007 when a young woman suffering from a brain aneurism slipped into a coma and she came out of the coma completely healed. When one miracle is authenticated, Mother Delille will be declared Blessed. When a second miracle has been authenticated, Mother Delille will be declared a Saint.
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. The 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.

The Archdiocese’s connection to Mother Delille continues today.  One of the bells in 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.”  

For more information:   https://www.henriettedelille.com