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S+L on the road: the Cause for Henriette Delille

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From the left: Sr Laura, Sr Greta share with me about Venerable Henriette Delille’s story and her continuing significance.

During my time in New Orleans, I visited with Sr. Greta and Sr. Laura of the Sisters of the Holy Family to learn about the Cause for Venerable Henriette Delille, founder of The Sister’s of the Holy Family – the second oldest African-American congregation of religious women in America.

Opened in 1988, Henriette’s Cause took a major step forward in 2010 when Pope Benedict XVI declared her Venerable. And it looks like there’s much more to come.

To date, 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.

Even Hollywood has taken notice. In 2000, Hollywood actress Vanessa Williams starred as Henriette Delille in The Courage to Love  a movie inspired by Henriette’s story. Although, to hear the Sister’s tell it, the love story angle in the movie is highly improbable.

This gave me a good chuckle.

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Sr. Laura holds up a t-shirt, which promotes the Cause of Venerable Henriette Delille.  On the shirt is her only recorded writing,  penned on the inside cover of an 1836 prayer book: “I believe in God. I hope in God. I love God. I want to live and die for God.”

In the following clip, Sr. Greta speaks to me about a painting depicting Venerable Henriette Delille’s life.

It’s interesting to note that Henriette was not a slave. In fact, she came from a long line of free women.

By the time Henriette was born in 1812 she was a fourth generation descendant of an enslaved African women; a third generation Afro-Creole and a second generation free woman.

In other words, Henriette grew up in a society in which she was respected as a Creole with ties to prominent white and free coloured Creoles (Henriette Delille,Virginia Meacham Gould, 18).

According to Benedictine Father, Cyprian Davis who wrote a biography about Henriette called, Henriette Delille, Servant of Slaves, Witness to the Poor, the Delille family became free because Henriette’s great, great grandmother Nanette was brought to America as a slave, and freed after the death of her owner.

Apparently, Louisiana under French rule, had some provisions for slaves in their law, and it was possible for a slave to be bought out of slavery over the wishes of his or her owner.

According to Father Davis, a slave could demand an owner to name a price for the slave’s freedom and if the owner refused, the slave had recourse through the courts.

In the case of the Delille family, Nanette eventually amassed enough money to buy her daughter (and two of her grandchildren) out of slavery.  In time, Henriette’s family became relatively wealthy, even if they remained second-class citizens.

But Henriette’s early life was not without turmoil, and as I delve further into her story, I look forward to sharing these revelations with you.

Learn more about St. Augustine’s parish where Venerable Henriette Delille ministered in this post.

S+L On The Road: The Producer Diaries
In this blog series S+L producer, Cheridan Sanders shares her experiences developing an original S+L television series featuring seven women religious communities located in Africa, the Philippines, Timor-Leste and the United States. The globe-trotting series invites viewers to delight in the spiritual gifts of each of community and witness the extraordinary work of: educating girls, ministering to outcasts, sheltering HIV orphans, preventing human trafficking, taking care of the elderly, and so much more. The time is now to show the world how magnificent our Sisters are. The new series is an exciting collaboration with the Loyola Institute for Ministry in New Orleans and is made possible through a $900 000 dollar grant from the Conrad Hilton Foundation.

S+L on the road: The Vietnamese Connection

Portrait of Bishop Dominic Mary Ho-Ngoc-Can, founder of the Daughters of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary

My time in New Orleans has yielded many interesting stories, one of these is the role that the Archdiocese of New Orleans played in receiving refugees after the Vietnam war. At the request of Archbishop Philip Hannan the Daughters of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary moved from Philadelphia (where they were studying) to New Orleans to build up and support the Vietnamese community as they made their way in America.

We’ll explore that story line more in the series, but for now, I’ll share this article featured in America magazine. It’s an interview with Bishop Luong, the first and only Vietnamese American Catholic bishop. In the article, he speaks about his work among Vietnamese refugees and the continuing importance of the Rosary in Vietnamese family life today.

Sr Sandy Nguyen, Daughters of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary of Chi Hoa welcomes us.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves! Here’s a tidbit of info that my guide (and gracious host) Dr. Barbara Fleischer of Loyola Institute for Ministry pointed out to me on our drive over to visit the Daughters of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary.

Here, Sr. Sandy Nguyen gives us a quick tour of the Motherhouse.

S+L On The Road: The Producer Diaries
In this blog series S+L producer, Cheridan Sanders shares her experiences developing an original S+L television series featuring seven women religious communities located in Africa, the Philippines, Timor-Leste and the United States. The globe-trotting series invites viewers to delight in the spiritual gifts of each of community and witness the extraordinary work of: educating girls, ministering to outcasts, sheltering HIV orphans, preventing human trafficking, taking care of the elderly, and so much more. The time is now to show the world how magnificent our Sisters are! The new series is an exciting collaboration with the Loyola Institute for Ministry in New Orleans and is made possible through a $900 000 dollar grant from the Conrad Hilton Foundation.  

S+L on the road: Jesuit Church ‘a real head-turner’

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In an earlier post in which I wrote about Cafe Reconcile, a bustling, award-winning restaurant that helps at-risk youth develop employable skills, I mentioned that the founder of the program, Fr. Harry Tompson S.J. was the former pastor of Immaculate Conception parish (‘Jesuit Church’ to locals). It’s worth mentioning that Jesuit Church deserves its own accolades because it is a beauty. Its intriguing architecture is a vibrant mix of Neo-Venetian Gothic Revivalism ( yes, I had to look that up too). I’ve included some shots of the exterior for you, I would have taken some of the interior, but my ride was circling the block and I only had a few seconds!

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As you can see, its architectural style makes it a distinctive and intriguing landmark.

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Front entrance to Jesuit Church

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Close-up of the Church walls

Designed by Fr. John Cambiaso it was completed in 1857. However, after it suffered foundation damage it was disassembled, reassembled and rededicated in 1930.

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Detail of the Church doors.

The church is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, and continues to be an unmistakable fixture in the heart of New Orleans.

S+L On The Road: The Producer Diaries
In this blog series S+L producer, Cheridan Sanders shares her experiences developing an original S+L television series featuring seven women religious communities located in Africa, the Philippines, Timor-Leste and the United States. The globe-trotting series invites viewers to delight in the spiritual gifts of each of community and witness the extraordinary work of: educating girls, ministering to outcasts, sheltering HIV orphans, preventing human trafficking, taking care of the elderly, and so much more. The time is now to show the world how magnificent our Sisters are. The new series is an exciting collaboration with the Loyola Institute for Ministry in New Orleans and is made possible through a $900 000 dollar grant from the Conrad Hilton Foundation.

S+L on the road: let’s go to cemetery!

Its not uncommon in New Orleans to see buses with the destination “Cemeteries” and hoards of people getting onto them. As strange as that sight might seem, New Orleans does have grand cemeteries, which people flock to see. Some of them dating back to as early as the 1700’s. Since most of New Orleans is built on on a swamp the deceased have to be buried above ground, often in elaborate stone crypts and mausoleums. Over time, these tombs have come to resemble small villages and are called the Cities of the Dead (…cue spooky organ interlude)

Naturally I had to check out what all the fuss is about.

Aren’t they fabulous? My only question now, is how do I include these visuals in our new series!

S+L on the road: the producer diaries
In this blog series S+L producer, Cheridan Sanders shares her experiences developing a new S+L television series featuring seven women religious communities located in Africa, the Philippines, Timor-Leste and the United States. The globe-trotting series invites viewers to delight in the spiritual gifts of each of community and witness the extraordinary work of: educating girls, ministering to outcasts, sheltering HIV orphans, preventing human trafficking, taking care of the elderly, and so much more. The time is now to show the world how magnificent our Sisters are. The new series is an exciting collaboration with the Loyola Institute for Ministry in New Orleans and is made possible through a $900 000 dollar grant from the Conrad Hilton Foundation.

 

 

S+L on the road: when the levee breaks

ARCHBISHOP HANNAN PICTURED TOURING NEW ORLEANS AREA AFTER HURRICANE KATRINA IN 2005

Retired New Orleans Archbishop Philip M. Hannan is pictured during a helicopter tour of areas stricken by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Archbishop Hannan was a World War II paratroop chaplain who befriended and secretly counseled John F. Kennedy during and after his historic run for the White House as the first U.S. Catholic president. CNS photo/Sean Harrison, Archdiocese of New Orleans

One of the recurring themes during my conversations this past week has been the impact of Hurricane Katrina, which can still be felt nearly 10 years later (August 29, 2015 marks the 10th year anniversary of the disaster). Although the city has rebounded and is getting its groove back, there are still signs of recuperation.

In the following, Dr. Barbara Fleischer explains the extent of the flooding.

In the second clip, Barbara shows me one of the 50 levees which broke and explains some of its impact.

Many religious communities, including the Sisters of the Holy Family, The Sisters of Mount Carmel and Daughters of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary Chi-Hoa were seriously affected by the flooding. Their motherhouses and most of their facilities; schools and nursing homes all had to be rebuilt. But as is so often the case when disaster strikes, there were also many instances of heroic virtue as the Sisters chose not to abandon the people they served.

To learn more about the Sisters’ response to Hurricane Katrina, I recommend watching We Shall Not Be Moved. But have some tissues ready because the Sisters will make you proud.

New Canal Lighthouse, New Orleans

Side note: most people will know of the Zed Leppelin version of the song “When the Levee Breaks”, but the rock song is actually take off an old blues song written by husband and wife couple, Kansas Joe McCoy and guitar legend Memphis Minnie who wrote it in 1929 about the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927.

S+L On The Road: The Producer Diaries
In this blog series S+L producer, Cheridan Sanders shares her experiences developing an original S+L television series featuring seven women religious communities located in Africa, the Philippines, Timor-Leste and the United States. The globe-trotting series invites viewers to delight in the spiritual gifts of each of community and witness the extraordinary work of: educating girls, ministering to outcasts, sheltering HIV orphans, preventing human trafficking, taking care of the elderly, and so much more. The time is now to show the world how magnificent our Sisters are. The new series is an exciting collaboration with the Loyola Institute for Ministry in New Orleans and is made possible through a $900 000 dollar grant from the Conrad Hilton Foundation.

S+L on the road – the Catholic soul of New Orleans

20150410_113442Side altar at St. Augustine’s Church in Treme

New Orleans is a city with deep Catholic roots. There are many religious communities that have played critical roles at various points in the city’s history. In our new series, three of the seven women religious communities that we’ll feature have unique connections to the city. My principal guide throughout my stay in New Orleans has been Dr. Barbara Fleischer of the Loyola Institute for Ministry. You could say she’s to me what Virgil was to Dante (minus all the demons).

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Dr. Barbara Fleischer, Loyola Institute for Ministry, New Orleans

As I’ve gone about the business of visiting with the Sisters’ gathering information for the new series, Barbara shared insights with me. For example, on one of these drives Barbara shared with me the story of the indentured Irish workers who came to New Orleans to help dig the Canals. In the following, she makes an interesting connection with a memorial commemorating the Irish and Blessed Fr. Seelos, a Redemptorist priest.

Even a quick stop for some delicious gumbo was an opportunity to learn about an initiative by Jesuit Fr. Harry Tompson, former pastor of Immaculate Conception Parish. Fr. Tompson was looking for a way to address generational poverty in New Orleans and together with two community members founded Cafe Reconcile, a restaurant that serves as a job training program for at-risk youth.

Today Cafe Reconcile‘s Workforce Development Program has graduated more than 1 000 youth between the ages of 16 and 22.

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Besides receiving awards for their food and support from well-known celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse – did I mention that their gumbo is awesome?

20150410_142743Staff at Cafe Reconcile

And before I sign off, I leave you with a taste of what Sunday mass is like at St. Augustine’s parish, which is located in heart of the legendary neighbourhood of Treme, home of musicians and singers.

Stay tuned for more!

S+L on the road – when the Saints go marching…

henriette-delillejpg-002 Venerable Henriette Delille, Founder of the Sisters of the Holy Family.

As I mentioned in a previous post I’ve been in New Orleans for the past couple of days doing some research for a new series which will feature the charisms of seven women religious communities in Louisiana and Africa.

Naturally, my first stop was Treme one of the oldest and historically significant neighbourhoods in New Orleans. For those unfamiliar with the area it is an important centre of African-American and Creole culture. Jazz fans will immediately recognize it as the home of Louis Armstrong (‘Satchmo’ to folks down here).

What you may not realize however, is that Treme is also home to St. Augustine’s church, a church which is intricately connected with the story of several significant religious women’s communities in New Orleans.

You see, prior to becoming the site of St. Augustine’s church, the property was originally purchased and used as a school to educate free women of colour and slaves. Both the Ursulines and the Carmelites were involved in this controversial endeavour.

Later in 1842, when Henriette DeLille and Juliette Gaudin, publicly knelt before the altar to pledge before all that they would live in community and work with orphans, the uneducated, the poor, and the sick, St. Augustine’s became the site where the Sisters of the Holy Family came into being.

Today the Sisters of the Holy Family are the second oldest African-American congregation of religious women in America.

Interestingly, St. Augustine’s other claim to fame is that it was the first fully racially integrated parish in America. Although, how that all came about is not what you’d expect:

A few months before the October 9, 1842 dedication of St. Augustine Church, the people of color began to purchase pews for their families to sit. Upon hearing of this, white people in the area started a campaign to buy more pews than the colored folks. Thus, The War of the Pews began and was ultimately won by the free people of color who bought three pews to every one purchased by the whites. In an unprecedented social, political and religious move, the colored members also bought all the pews of both side aisles. They gave those pews to the slaves as their exclusive place of worship, a first in the history of slavery in the United States. An excerpt from St. Augustine’s Church website.

Imagine that!

But to get back to Henriette Delille, I suppose what captures my imagination most about this bone fide New Orleans saint is how her love for Jesus led her to defy the social conventions of her time. It was expected that free born women like Henriette should aspire to becoming a placee (concubine) to wealthy white men; but, she chose not to participate in the placage system and devoted herself to serving Jesus instead. This, during a time when  it was commonly held that women of colour could not become consecrated religious.

With Henriette Delille’s cause for canonization underway, its a marvel to reflect upon how these Sisters have educated and inspired generations of young women to embrace Christ. And as my gracious tour guide Ms. Linda Harris, the parish secretary at St. Augustine’s and former student with the Sisters, shared with me during my recent visit – the Sisters’ mere presence continues to provide great witness to all they encounter. Here’s a clip from that conversation (I hope that you’ll forgive the poor quality).

Discovering the saints of New Orleans

People walk past street sign dedicated to St. John Paul II

Over the next few days, I’ll share with you some behind-the-scenes images and impressions about my time in New Orleans as Salt + Light embarks on an exciting new collaboration with the Loyola Institute for Ministry. As mentioned, in my previous post, we’ll be working to develop a series that highlights the charisms (and the extraordinary work) of seven women religious communities located in the United States and in Africa.

Now, we all know that the key to success in any undertaking is to prepare, prepare, prepare. To that end, the purpose of this trip is get myself acquainted with the location(s), the history, and most importantly, the people whose story I’ll be working to tell over the course of the next two years.  My time in New Orleans promises to be filled with lots of interesting people, stories and hope. So consider yourself invited, as we take you on the road with Salt + Light.

Photo credit: CNS

 

 

The most interesting man in the world

PAUL VI AND CARDINAL WOJTYLA CONVERSE AT VATICAN

Pope Paul VI and Cardinal Karol Wojtyla meet at the Vatican. Paul VI, who served in Poland during his early priesthood, held the future Pope John Paul II in high regard. (CNS file photo)

No doubt you’ve seen those cheesy beer ads about ‘the most interesting man in the world’. For the record, Pope John Paul II was the real deal.  He spoke between 8 and 11 languages fluently, and was so charismatic figure that he is credited with the fall of communism in his native Poland. Besides being an athlete, a poet and one of the leading thinkers in the Catholic Church at the Second Vatican Council, he was also tremendously brave. For example, when the Nazi’s closed down the seminary in Krakow, he began studying in secret at a seminary run by the archbishop of Krakow.

He was an extraordinary man, and in many respects a pope of firsts: the first pope to visit the White House, the first pope to visit Cuba, and the most widely traveled Pope in history. And as one of the longest reigning popes in the history of the Church, his influence will be felt for generations. So today as we celebrate John Paul II Day across Canada, we give thanks for Saint Pope John Paul’s Christian witness as a fearless champion of human dignity and freedom (and give a nod to the most interesting man in the world).

Below some images celebrating his dynamic legacy.

FILE PHOTO OF SOVIET PRESIDENT GORBACHEV MEETING POPE JOHN PAUL II AT THE VATICAN

Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev meets with Pope John Paul II at the Vatican in this Dec. 1, 1989, file photo. Hours after the meeting, the Vatican told the United States in a confidential assessment that Gorbachev could be trusted as a genuine reformer. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano)

MOTHER TERESA, POPE JOHN PAUL II AT HOME FOR DYING IN 1986

Mother Teresa of Calcutta accompanies Pope John Paul II as he greets people at the Home For the Dying in Calcutta, India, in 1986. (CNS photo/Arturo Mari)

SCAN FROM NEGATIVE OF POPE JOHN PAUL II MEETING WOULD-BE-ASSASSIN

Pope John Paul II meeting his would-be assassin, Mehmet Ali Agca, in a Rome prison Dec. 27, 1983.  (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

1989 FILE PHOTO OF POPE JOHN PAUL II ARRIVING IN INDONESIA

Pope John Paul II kisses a rain-soaked tarmac as he arrives in Jakarta, Indonesia, on a pastoral trip in 1989. (CNS file photo)

POPE JOHN PAUL II ADDRESSES UNITED NATIONS IN 1979

Pope John Paul II addresses the General Assembly at the United Nations in New York Oct. 2, 1979. (CNS file photo)

FILE PHOTO OF POPE JOHN PAUL II AT 1986 INTERRELIGIOUS ENCOUNTER IN ASSISI

Pope John Paul II attends an interreligious ecounter in Assisi, Italy, in 1986. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano)

ARCHBISHOP DESMOND TUTU PICTURED WITH POPE JOHN PAUL II AT THE VATICAN IN 1983

Pope John Paul II meets with Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, center right, in 1983 at the Vatican.  (CNS photo/Giancarlo Giuliani, Catholic Press Photos)

2002 photo of Blessed John Paul II during World Youth Day in Toronto

Pope John Paul II celebrated his final international World Youth Day in Toronto in 2002. The Polish-born pontiff, then age 82, described himself as “old,” but looked and sounded better than he had in months, demonstrating once again his special chemistry with young people. (CNS file photo)

Want to learn more? Watch this episode of Catholic Focus with Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB as he shares his insights about the life and times of Saint Pope John Paul II. All images courtesy of our friends at Catholic News Service.

Okay one last pic –

POPE JOHN PAUL II HOLDS KOALA DURING 1986 VISIT TO AUSTRALIA

Pope John Paul II holds a koala during his 1986 visit to Australia. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano) 

Waiting to exhale

File photo of Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa preaching at Vatican

The Lenten Season is, par excellence, the time of inspiration.  At this time, we take deep breaths; we fill the lungs of our soul with the Holy Spirit and thus, without our realizing it, our breath will have the scent of Christ. Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, First Lenten homily for 2015 reflecting on Evangelii Gaudium

A good friend of mine recently shared with me a website promoting the premiere of  National Geographic’s film Killing Jesus.  The movie charts the political and historical conflicts that led to the execution of Jesus. Its main draw being that it explores the differing perspectives on who Jesus was and how that affected the telling of his story.

All of which got me thinking about the Passion narrative; because, every time I think about it, I can’t help but ask myself whose actions would be my own? Some years ago I imagined myself as Mary Magdalene or Veronica but more recently I’ve been wondering what if I’m Peter or worse, Judas?

Trying to understand the motivations of those who interacted with Jesus is not easy. Most of the time, I’m left thinking, what’s that even supposed to mean?

So to help me dive deeper into the story, I’ve been revisiting the homilies of Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa. Anyone who has read or listened to Fr. Cantalamessa knows that there’s a very good reason that he is the preacher to the papal household. His homilies are excellent.  There are several reasons, but I’ll keep it to three.

POETIC USE OF IMAGERY

First his poetic use of imagery, I recall  during the Good Friday service in 2013 he made reference to a short story by Franz Kafka called an Imperial Message. He used the story as a metaphor for ourselves in relation to Holy Spirit. And if you’ve ever read any Kafka you know his surreal, nightmarish depictions will leave you disturbed. But given Fr. Cantalamessa’s point – that we need to get out of the way and let the Holy Spirit do its work – it was a point worth making!

ACCESSIBLE

Secondly, even though I gain a tremendous amount of insight (theological and historical) from his homilies they’re always accessible. He has this amazing way of providing broad scope but always bringing it back to everyday realities  (not unlike my other favourite homilist, Papa Francesco). For example, in his homily for the 2014 Good Friday service he reflected on Judas and his role in Christ’s Passion. And boy did he bring it home:

 

One can betray Jesus for other kinds of compensation than 30 pieces of silver. A man who betrays his wife, or a wife her husband, betrays Christ. The minister of God who is unfaithful to his state in life, or instead of feeding the sheep entrusted to him feeds himself, betrays Jesus. Whoever betrays their conscience betrays Jesus. Even I can betray him at this very moment — and it makes me tremble — if while preaching about Judas I am more concerned about the audience’s approval than about participating in the immense sorrow of the Savior. There was a mitigating circumstance in Judas’ case that that I do not have. He did not know who Jesus was and considered him to be only “a righteous man”; he did not know, as we do, that he was the Son of God.

GREAT CONNECTIONS

And lastly, I love his homilies because he makes connections to great literature and music which reminds me that I’m joined with all humanity in contemplating the great questions of life. All of which is very inspiring.  So in the words of Fr. Cantalamessa,  I invite you to take some time this week to be inspired, so that you too may have “the scent of Christ”.

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From March 30 to April 6 Salt + Light will bring you full coverage of the Holy Week and Easter liturgies led by Pope Francis.

Photo credit: CNS