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.
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.