Alleged Miracle Moves Sr. Henriette Delille Closer to Sainthood

News: US News
by Martina Moyski  •  •  August 29, 2019   

Documentation of miracle travels to Vatican

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. ( - Documentation of an alleged miracle attributed to Sr. Henriette Delille being sent to the Vatican has been announced by the diocese of Little Rock, Arkansas.

The diocese does not say when the documentation was submitted but notes that the case was closed in May 2018.

Sister Henriette Delille, a free woman of color, founded the Sisters of the Holy Family, an order that has continued to serve the poorest of the poor in New Orleans ⁠— and abroad ⁠— for over 175 years.

The Sisters of the Holy Family have carefully documented the life of their foundress to facilitate her possible canonization. If her canonization process continues, she could be the first black saint from the United States.

Sister Doris Goudeaux, co-director of the Henriette Delille Commission Office and who works on completing the final phases Sr. Henriette's canonization, said, "I think it will be one of the biggest things that ever happened. Big big big. And we believe that she's a saint, you know? But we still have to have it from the Church," adding, "It's a miracle that we exist today, that we actually came into being, and that sticks with me all the time."

Sisters of the Holy Family, New Orleans c.1900

Sister Doris is referring to the challenges Sr. Henriette faced as a person of color in the antebellum South and in the founding the Sisters of the Holy Family.

She was born in New Orleans in 1812 — her great, great grandmother being a slave from West Africa.

She gave birth to two sons who died before the age of 3. Afterward, it is said, she had a religious experience which can be seen in a brief declaration of faith and love to her Lord. On the flyleaf of a book centered on the Holy Eucharist, she wrote: "Je crois en Dieu. J'espère en Dieu. J'aime. Je v[eux] vivre et mourir pour Dieu" — "I believe in God, I hope in God, I love God, I want to live and die for God."

She died in 1862, age 50, at the cusp of the Civil War.

The beneficiary of the healing attributed to Sr. Henriette in this phase of the process is a former Arkansas college student, Christine McGee, who suffered an aneurysm in 2007 when she was 19 years old. McGee was expected to die.

Her mother was devoted to Henriette Delille. Even though McGee was "unresponsive in a coma, her mother prayed to Sr. Henriette." McGee regained consciousness and went on to lead a healthy life, receiving a master's degree from Loyola University in New Orleans, according to Sr. Doris.

To promote her cause and make her powers known, the Sisters of the Holy Family have organized a tour of key New Orleans sites related to the life of Sr. Henriette and the order. These include:

1. 6905 Chef Menteur Highway, 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 Ven. Henriette Delille in the motherhouse chapel and a relic of St. Augustine.

2. 6900-24 Chef Menteur Highway, 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.

New Orleans Ven. Henriette Delille tour

3. Saint John Berchmans Manor, 3400 St. Anthony Avenue, built in 1982.

4. Saint John Berchmans Child Development Center at 2710 Gentilly Boulevard was built in 1972 but was formerly an orphanage for girls from 1926–70.

5. 1125 N. Tonti and Governor Nicholls Streets — the former locale of Lafon Catholic Old Folks Home.

6. 1312, 1328-32 St. Bernard Street (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 Street 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 Street in Tremé, St. Augustine Church, where she attended Mass and was believed to have taken her first vows with Fr. Etienne Rousselon, the 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 Street, 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 Abp. 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.

If her canonization process continues, she could be the first black saint from the United States.

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 Avenue 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. Saint 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.

The process to sainthood has four phases: servant of God, venerable, blessed and saint. Sister Henriette was previously named a "Servant of God" in 1988 when St. John Paul II granted the request for permission to begin a canonization process. "Venerable" was decreed by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010.

To become a saint, miracles need to occur and be verified by doctors, scientists and other researchers to determine if miracles attributed to Delille's intercession are valid. As Sr. Doris refers to the miracle of Sr. Henriette's life, "One could argue that a free woman of color starting a religious order during the height of slavery ⁠— that's pretty miraculous."

The archdiocese of New Orleans has invited Church Militant readers to pray an intercession said at every Mass in every church in the diocese: "Mother Henriette Delille, pray for us that we may be a holy family." The full prayer is available online.

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