What will happen to the plaque in the sidewalk on Royal Street honoring Henriette Delille? For those unfamiliar with her story, she was born in New Orleans in 1812, the daughter of a free woman of color. Henriette’s mother and sister followed the placage system, which means entering into “concubinage” with a wealthy white man once a daughter became of age.

Henriette chose a religious life instead but was turned down when she applied to join the Ursuline and Carmelite sisters because she was of mixed race. As a teenager, Henriette began working to bring the Catholic faith to the enslaved and free people of color. Eventually, she founded the Sisters of the Holy Family in 1842, and all the sisters were free women of color. The sisters taught, worked in hospitals and tended to the elderly and those dying. They were Louisiana’s 19th-century hospice!

The Sisters of the Holy Family played an important role in Louisiana history. They cared for orphans and the sick during the worst yellow fever epidemics in New Orleans history, 1853 and 1897. These nuns continue to serve their community almost 175 years later.

Mother Henriette owned a slave. Her name was Betsy. Henriette freed her in her will when she died in 1862. Many African-Americans are descendants of free people of color that owned slaves.

Mother Henriette is in the process of sainthood. There are four phases, and two of them are complete. The venerable phase was decreed by Pope Benedict XVI on March 27, 2010.

The plaque honoring Henriette is on the sidewalk on Royal Street behind the St. Louis Cathedral. As a mixed-race slave owner, will the plaque honoring her and the Sisters of the Holy Family be removed if the city takes down statues and removes monuments that have anything to do with slavery?

Diane DeSalvo

licensed walking tour guide

New Orleans