Venerable Henriette DelilLe

Born: New Orleans, 1813

Died: New Orleans, 1862

Feast Day: Established at beatification

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Venerable Henriette DeLille was the first Mother of the Sisters of the Holy Family. During her youth, she was a victim of an unjust outgrowth of the French colonial system known as “plaçage,” according to which French or other white men took temporary concubines from the mixed, Indigenous, and Black female population. Herself born of one of these exploitative relationships, she appears to have been selected for one at a young age. As a result she may have had two children by the age of 19 and, tragically, both boys died at a young age.

 

At the age of 24, she experienced a deepening conversion that affected the course of her life. Even though she could pass as white, she resolved to stand with the mixed, Black, and poor communities in New Orleans. She became a critic of the plaçage system and committed herself to educating slaves in the antebellum South.

 

She was excluded by race from the established religious orders, but she founded a society called the Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, later renamed as noted above. After decades of service in this community, she died of tuberculosis during the Civil War in 1862—just before the Emancipation Proclamation.

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Suggested Books

  • Black Catholics on the Road to Sainthood by Michael R. Heinlein (Amazon)

  • The Subversive Power of Love: The Vision of Henriette DeLille by M. Shawn Copeland (Amazon)

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