Henriette DeLille may not yet be canonized by the Catholic Church, but she undoubtedly was saint-like to the people of color who she helped house, educate and comfort.
DeLille was a free woman of color. Although her family had a comfortable life and could pass for white, Deville identified as nonwhite.
She began preaching to slaves and nonwhites and privately pledged herself to God’s service in 1836. In 1842, DeLille, Juliette Gaudin and Josephine Charles founded the Sisters of the Holy Family at St. Augustine in the Treme. Because they identified as non-white, they could not join other holy orders that were open only to white women.
They pledged to devote themselves to educating young girls of color and caring for the aged and the poor.
The order opened schools and nursing homes for nonwhites, and according to the National Register, they opened the first Catholic home for the elderly, the Lafon Nursing facility.
When DeLille died in 1862 there were 12 members of the order, but it continued to grow. The order reached its peak in 1950, with 400 sisters.
Today there are about 80 nuns serving the order, which is based in Gentilly.
“What Henriette DeLille did in her time could be compared to what Mother Theresa did in hers,” Sister Angela Merici Luis, of the Sisters of the Holy Family in Compton, California, told the Los Angeles Times in 1999.
In 1988 the order formally opened the cause with the Holy See for the canonization of DeLille. In 2010 Pope Benedict XVI declared DeLille to be Venerable, or heroic in virtue. The Vatican is investigating two miracles attributed to DeLille. If the miracles are confirmed, DeLille could become the first saint from New Orleans.