About Henriette Delille Sarpy
Henriette Delille was born, a "free person of color" in New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1812. She was the daughter of Marie Josef Dias and Jean Baptiste Delille-Sarpy (a white man of French descent). Henriette Delille was born into a life of privilege, a fact which did not prevent her from fighting racism in nineteenth-century New Orleans. Technically, she was a quadroon meaning she was believed to be one-fourth black. Though her parents and siblings listed themselves as white in the census, Delille used the label, free person of color, which applied to all biracial people. She was the youngest of three children born to Marie Josef Dias and Jean Baptiste Delille-Sarpy, a white man of French descent, who never married. Instead, they had an arrangement known as a plaçage, which was common between wealthy white Creole men and free women of color. The children born into the relationship were well taken care of, but the couple never married since laws prohibited it. Delille's parents were Catholic, as were most Creoles and free people of color. In the 1830 census, Delille, unlike the rest of her family, chose not to register as white. Family members were so light-skinned they could easily pass for white. "Henriette's resistance to this change of racial status was heroic," wrote Joseph H. Fichter in America, "and her decision to stay with 'her own' was testimony to her rejection of worldly aspirations."
Henriette gave up her privileged life as a teen, against her mother's wishes, and began preaching to slaves and free people of color. Her efforts to work within the Church to improve the lives of the racially mixed underclass were reinforced by the fact that the Church crossed the race line in Mass and had mixed choirs. However, Delille soon encountered the Church's own forms of racism. As a result of declaring herself nonwhite, Henriette was refused as a postulant by the Ursuline and Carmelite nuns, which were open only to white women. Nonetheless, Delille and her friend Juliette Gaudin, a fellow free person of color, continued to pray together and teach nonwhites. In 1835, when she was in her early 20’s, Henriette sold property she had inherited and with Marie Jeanne Aliquot, a Frenchwoman whose life had been saved by a colored man, and Juliette Gaudin, she set out to establish a community of negro sisters to continue the work of Sister St. Marthe. This ended in failure in 1836 because it was illegal for Negroes and whites to have close contact. In 1836, they privately pledged themselves to God's service. They shared their pledge with Père Rousselon and Marie Jeanne Alíquot. In 1842, Rousselon helped the two women establish a home for elderly nonwhites. With loans and part of her inheritance, Delille bought a house where she could teach religion to nonwhites, despite the fact that educating nonwhites was illegal at the time. A year later, Delille and Gaudin were joined by another free person of color, Josephine Charles. "There is documentation showing these women did not gloss over the prejudice, the difficulties, the hardships," Archdiocese of New Orleans archivist Charles E. Nolan was quoted as saying on Philly.com. "Still, there's not a note of bitterness--and that's one of the gifts she had, the ability to step beyond all of the hurt and prejudice and take the next step, to do what God called them to do."
Delille, with Gaudin and Charles, founded the Sisters of the Holy Family, though they were not acknowledged as a religious sisterhood by the Catholic church. The order reflected Delille's social concerns and was devoted to the poor and uneducated. They nursed the sick during epidemics that devastated New Orleans. They provided hospice care and created an annex for the city's many orphans. On October 15, 1852, the three women officially took their vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience to God before Père Rousselon, with Delille as superior. They donned the simple black uniform of a religious order. "The woman who founded our order went to the poorest of the poor, and that is the legacy she left us," Sister Sylvia Thibodeaux told the Los Angeles Times, "She was the servant of slaves. You can't get more committed than that."
She died in New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1862. Six weeks before President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, the following obituary appeared in a New Orleans newspaper: "Last Monday died one of these women whose obscure and retired life was nothing remarkable in the eyes of the world but is full of merit before God. . . . Without ever having heard speak of philanthropy, this poor maid had done more good than the great philanthropists with their systems so brilliant yet so vain.
Henriette Delille’s canonization process was initiated by Archbishop Philip M. Hannan in April, 1988, requested by Mother Rose de Lima Hazeur, Superior General of the Sisters of the Holy Family. It was reviewed by a special commission in Rome who gave permission in June, 1988 to officially open the process. A historical documentation of her life was written by Rev. Cyprian Davis, OSB, acclaimed author and authority on Black Catholics. The biography was published in 2004. Promotion of devotion to Henriette Delille, a significant part of the process, continues from the beginning. Two miracles are needed through Henriette’s intercession before canonization, one for blessed and a second for sainthood. More than 300 favors and possible miracles, granted through her intercession, have been reported; and over 2,000 letters from 47 states and 15 countries have been received at the Commission Office. The Life, Virtues, and Reputation of Sanctity of Henriette Delille were tried at the Archdiocesan New Orleans Tribunal and an alleged miracle attributed to her intercession was tried in the Galveston- Houston Tribunal. These were officially closed June 30, 2005 and July 1, 2005 respectively. All documents, were boxed, signed, sealed, sent to Rome and registered at the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. The alleged miracle has been declared valid. The decree of judicial validity was issued in the investigation into the life, virtues and reputation of sanctity of Mother Henriette Delille on November 10, 2006. The Positio was approved by the Roman Historical Commission on October 7, 2008. We await approval from 9 theologians, 15 Cardinals and Pope Benedict XVI. We continue to pray and to spread devotion. The beatification will take place in New Orleans.
Prayer for the Beatification of Henriette Delille
==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 be 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.==