Henriette Delille transformed life in New Orleans

The Sisters of the Holy Family have well-documented the life of their foundress, Venerable Henriette Delille, while traveling the ongoing road to her possible canonization as a saint.

As part of the 175th anniversary celebration of the founding of their order and to promote their foundress’ cause for sainthood, the Holy Family Sisters, their friends, relatives and high school students at their St. Mary’s Academy took a bus tour of sites around New Orleans significant to the life of Henriette Delille, who was declared “venerable” in 2010. 

The tour prompted the Sisters of the Holy Family to chart locations important to her life, giving people devoted to her cause a chance to retrace her order’s footsteps in the city, said Holy Family Sister Doris Goudeaux, director of the Henriette Delille Commission Office. They are in the process of compiling the pertinent addresses in a new brochure.

Path to sainthood

Venerable Henriette Delille is the first United States-born African American whose cause for canonization has been officially opened by the Catholic Church. 

She was previously named a “Servant of God” in 1988 when St. John Paul II granted former Archbishop Philip Hannan’s request for permission to begin a canonization process. It was initiated by Mother Rose de Lima Hazeur, then-superior general of the Sisters of the Holy Family.

Her life was researched from 1988-2005, and a box of nearly 6,000 pages of documents on her life was sent to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints, just two months before Hurricane Katrina flooded the motherhouse.

In 2006, the documents were declared valid. Dr. Andrea Ambrosi, the Rome-based postulator of the cause, wrote a “positio” in 2007 on her life, virtues and reputation for sanctity as a “model of a true Christian.” By 2009,  seven historians and nine theologians had approved the positio. In 2010, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints affirmed that Mother Henriette practiced a life of heroic virtue, and Pope Benedict XVI declared her venerable.

Henriette Delille’s prayer: “I believe in God. I hope in God. I love. I want to live and die for God.”

Venerable Henriette still has hurdles to overcome in validating two miracles attributed to her in Arkansas and in Texas that could lead to her beatification – and possibly her canonization – but the sisters are confident those days will come. Their responsibility is to keep spreading word about her.

Creating a tour of her life locally is one way they are doing that.

Here are a few sites around New Orleans that bear significance to the life of Venerable Henriette and the Sisters of the Holy Family. The Sisters of the Holy Family Motherhouse was used as the beginning of the tour:

 

  • 1. 6905 Chef Menteur Hwy., the motherhouse where the sisters moved in 1955 on a 123-acre site bought for $10 an acre in 1906. The school was at 717 Orleans St. from 1881-1964, then relocated for one year to St. Louis Cathedral School on St. Ann Street until it moved permanently to the new location. On the same grounds is St. Mary’s Academy.  There is a relic of Venerable Henriette Delille in the motherhouse chapel and a relic of St. Augustine.
  • 2. 6900-24 Chef Menteur Hwy., Delille Inn (built in 1986) and Lafon Nursing Home (built in 1973) where seniors live across from the current motherhouse. Lafon moved from two different locations on Tonti Street, where it began in 1892.
  • 3. St. John Berchmans Manor, 3400 St. Anthony Ave., built in 1982. 
  • 4. St. John Berchmans Child Development Center at 2710 Gentilly Blvd. was built in 1972 but was formerly an orphanage for girls from 1926-70.
  • 5. 1125 N. Tonti and Governor Nicholls streets, was the former locale of Lafon Catholic Old Folks Home.
  • 6. 1312, 1328-32 St. Bernard St. (between Villere and Marais streets) was the first nursing home (“Hospice of the Holy Family”) dedicated in 1847 by the Association of the Holy Family.
  • 7. The first motherhouse was located on Bayou Road. Sisters moved in 1850 to 1422 Chartres St. to form a convent and school for free women of color. Sister Julia said Henriette used money she inherited from her mother to buy this property.

  • 8. 1210 Governor Nicholls St. in Tremé, St. Augustine Church, where she attended Mass and was believed to have taken her first vows with Father Etienne Rousselon, first pastor. There is a portrait and a plaque by the altar. A mention of the Sisters of the Holy Family serving there also is on a plaque on the church’s exterior.
  • 9. 11 blocks of St. Claude Avenue changed to Henriette Delille Street in 2011. It runs in front of St. Augustine Church in Tremé.
  • 10. 1100 Chartres St., Catholic Cultural Heritage Center with the Old Ursuline Convent and St. Mary’s Church. Her name appears on the register as being godmother to white and black children and adults, and she is believed to have prayed in the church and possibly recited private vows to Archbishop Antoine Blanc in 1851. An exhibit on her life, “One Heart, One Soul: The Life and Legacy of Henriette Delille,” was featured in 2017. She is also featured in a statue kneeling in the Garden of Saints in the convent’s gardens.
  • 11. 615 Pere Antoine Alley, St. Louis Cathedral. Stained-glass windows in her honor in “The Henriette Delille Prayer Room” at St. Louis Cathedral, where she was the sponsor for many black and white children who were baptized here. The chapel was dedicated in 2015. She also stood for many during marriages there.
  • 12. Royal Street sidewalk behind St. Louis Cathedral’s St. Anthony’s Garden in the French Quarter. A plaque with Henriette’s portrait and her prayer, designed by Connie Tregre, was installed in the sidewalk. It is in line with the statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in the garden.
  • 13. At 717 Orleans Ave. in the French Quarter, a plaque at the current Bourbon Orleans Hotel marks the site of the Sisters of the Holy Family’s original location where they cared for the elderly and educated people. The sisters served there for 83 years. It was bought as the Old Orleans Ballroom in 1881 for $21,000.
  • 14. 500 block of Burgundy Street (believed to be 524 or 526 Burgundy) was where she grew up in her mother Marie-Josèphe’s home as a mixed-race Creole.
  • 15. St. Louis Cemetery No. 2, Claiborne Avenue at Iberville Street, where Henriette Delille was buried in 1862 at age 50. Her funeral Mass was celebrated at St. Augustine Church in Tremé. The plaque on the tomb lists Henriette’s name and that of the order’s co-founders Juliette Gaudin and Josephine Charles, who also cared for the poor, nursed the sick and educated children and adults, along with a bronze placard  that lists other names of deceased Sisters of the Holy Family.

Oher places that honor her are St, Peter Claver School in New Orleans, where there is a marble statue created by local artist Marcus Brown and dedicated to her in 2012; and in Metairie at St. Angela Merici Church, at Beverly Gardens Drive and Metairie, Henriette’s Delille’s portrait is on the Wall of Saints.

The sisters and the Friends of Henriette Delille promote her cause for sainthood as much as possible. They celebrate her life on a Saturday near the date of her death (Nov. 17) and also the founding of the sisters in a Founder’s Day Mass Nov. 21, and, in recent years, the sisters have paraded on a float dedicated to Henriette Delille during Carnival season.

In 2000, a Lifetime cable movie, “The Courage to Love” featuring Vanessa Williams, was made.

Sister Doris said if she were declared blessed, the Mass of Beatification would be celebrated in New Orleans with a huge ceremony and celebration in New Orleans. If she went to be canonized, the Mass of Sainthood would be celebrated in Rome.

“I don’t think there will be any words to say about this,” Sister Doris said. “We’re so excited. This would be all the big things ever to happen in New Orleans in one.”

Christine Bordelon can be reached at cbordelon@clarionherald.org.

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