New Orlean's Henriette Delille can become the first black American saint
175 years after establishing the Sisters of the Holy Family order, Henriette Delille, a French-speaking woman of African descent stands at the doorstep of sainthood. If canonized, it will make her the first New Orleanian, and the first U.S.-born black person, recognized as a saint by the Roman Catholic Church.
Delille was only 24 when both of her children died. Shortly after she experienced a religious transformation that led to the formation of the Sisters of the Holy Family order which continues to serve to this day. This community of creole nuns administered to the elderly, nursing the sick and taught people of color who at the time had limited education opportunities.
Delille’s cause for canonization was opened by the Vatican in 1988 and over the next 17 years received 3,000 pages of historical data from several cities and countries to make her case.
Contrary to popular belief, despite having a sports team named after it, New Orleans has yet to have an official saint. In fact, Delille is already farther in the process than other local hopefuls.
Delille was one of five other African-Americans that are being considered for sainthood. Only one so far has reached venerable status: Haitian-born Pierre Toussaint, a New York hairdresser and former slave who died in 1853 at age 87. The remaining step needed for canonization is proof that Delille, by prayer-prompted intercession, is responsible for two miracles.
Emilie Leumas, the Archdiocese of New Orleans archivist who holds a Ph.D. in philosophy, said it’s difficult to predict when Delille might reach sainthood, but it’s a journey that is a feat in itself.
While it would be good to finally see an actual New Orleans saint, there are five competitors to Delille in the race to be the first black saint.
“Henriette Delille was a remarkably courageous woman, who through her compassionate care for the poor, the enslaved and the uneducated, left a legacy of love and service in the city of New Orleans,” Leumas said. “The Sisters of the Holy Family have maintained that mission for 175 years.”