In honor of Black History Month, Holy Family University is sharing the stories of Black Catholics who have been declared venerable and have been put forward in the canonization process that could lead to Sainthood.
A native and lifelong resident of New Orleans, Louisiana, Venerable Mother Henriette Díaz DeLille (1813-1862), was the great-great-granddaughter of a slave from West Africa. DeLille devoted her life to improving the welfare of her community, particularly for African-Americans who were current or former slaves. DeLille's mother, who was a free woman of color, provided her with a strong education with the intention of Delille finding a white suitor. However, DeLille felt deep spiritual ties to her Catholic upbringing and began teaching at a Catholic school when she was just 14 years old.
After being confirmed in 1834, DeLille began pursuing a religious life. She sold her possessions and used the money to establish the Sisters of the Presentation, the second Black religious order established in the United States. The order was renamed the Sisters of the Holy Family in 1942 (unrelated to the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth, the order that established Holy Family University). Achievements included the establishing of Lafon Nursing Facility, which is the first and oldest Catholic nursing home in the United States, a school for girls, and a home for orphans. The Sisters also educated slaves, which at the time was illegal. As a Black religious order, the Sisters of the Holy Family often found it challenging to receive support for their charitable works.
After 20 years as Mother Superior of the Sisters of the Holy Family, DeLille passed away in 1862.
In 2010, Pope Benedict XVI named DeLille Venerable, and the following year the New Orleans City Council unanimously voted to name a street after her.
To learn more about the Venerable Henriette Delille, visit this memorial website.