Henriette Delille

..The Race Issue ...or..... Cultural Genocide ??


She Belongs to The "Creole People "

Food for Thought

We Creoles, for a long time have watched the destruction of our culture by those who do not think of Us as a separate minority group. Henriette Delille, certainly was a Creole of color without doubt and we want this to be known.

She needs this recognition as it is an importan tPart of her identity. It is a shame that people in this generation, as in the past, are not willing to respect the cultural existence of our Creole people.


If we are to exist as a people, people need to know who we are and our contributions To Our Race and to this Country . Again, we are not African Americans and we are not White Americans, but a melting pot of all races. What make us who We are is our distinct culture and our recognition of each others as Creole!

Yes! Indeed there are White and Black Creoles, as Creole does not denote race but rather culture! The debates willcontinue until the truth is known by all!





Marion Ferreira

(A Creole Activist)



from a Creole perspective.

Since there have zillions of articles concerning Mother Henriette Delille, I will give each as I have read them and hope that someone can make some sense of all of the various stories about Mother Delille's ethnic background since it would seem that each story has great distortion.

This information has not changed - Thank God! Mother Delille was born in 1812 and died in 1862. Hurray!!

Now in an article written in the Josephite Harvest, dated September 1998, three years ago this month, written by Michelly B. Merrick, who stated that she knew little about the Sisters of the Holy Family and even less about their foundress, Mother Delille. She stated that she read "Henriette Delille: Free Woman of Color" by Sr. Audrey Marie Detiege, SSF, and "Henriette Delille: Servant of Slaves" by Virginia Meacham Gould and Charles E. Nolan.

She contacted the Sisters of the Holy Family who gave her plenty information. The she got in touch with St. Mary's Academy in New Orleans, founded in 1881 by the Sisters of the Holy Family. It was the first secondary school for African-American girls in New Orleans. She spoke to nine graduates from St. Mary's who had transplanted themselves in Baltimore, Maryland. They told her everything she wanted to know about "this woman whose legacy continues 135 years after her death".

Well, let's see what they told her.
The first was that she was a descendant of slaves, not exactly true since she was also a descendant of French and Spanish ancestors who were not slaves and to attest to that she had at a Mass in her Honor at St. Agatha's Church in Los Angeles, many of her white French Creole relatives -

her father, Jean Baptiste Delille Sarpy (A Spanish aristocrat) and her mother, Marie Joseph (Pouponne) Dias, Spanish and African; grandfather, Hughes Charles Honore Olivier, of Noble French birth; and other relatives of French, Spanish, Indian, Italian and African origin -

Olivier, Vincent, DeCuir, Boutte, and Pinta; most of the Cane River or Isle Breville Creole People - Metoyers, Dubreuils, Rachals, et al and many Creole people too numerous to mention. Therefore it would follow that she was just not a descendant of slaves and a "Native-born African-American" as it is also written in stories about her.


Ms. Merrick stated that she was born in 1812 into a prosperous and influential New Orleans family. She forgot to mention that it was a Creole family in New Orleans, just 9 years after the French Louisiana Territory was sold by the French government to the United States.

It was mentioned that her mother was "une femme de couleur libre" and not that this woman was a Creole by virtue of the fact that all people who were born native to Louisiana were considered Creoles by virtue of the meaning of the word at that time, even pure Africans.

It would seem that the story goes that Marie Joseph was the place of Delille Sarpy because of the fact that Creoles and Whites by law were unable to marry each other. But did that mean that an offspring, according to Ms. Merrick, of an interracial union had to be identified as the mother and not take into consideration her father's ethnicity. Because that was what her mother was (Spanish-Creole).

So the story goes that Henriette was baptized and confirmed in the church that was to become St. Louis Cathedral, and she grew up on Burgundy Street in the French Quarter, (where all Creoles and their descendants lived). Her education (as a member of the quadroon class) included French literature (why not African literature if in fact she was African??) music appreciation and dance lessons.

Her mother taught her nursing skills and how to prepare medicines from herbs. In spite of the training, Henriette was not to follow the lifestyle of her peers. Sr. Detiege wrote that Henriette's basic conflict facing her - "it was the impropriety of the customs of the times that produced this free woman of color who was caught between the two worlds of bondage and freedom being a part of each class yet belonging to neither". That was a mistreatment when in fact she was a "free woman of color". She in fact belonged to that class and besides she was a Creole.

The story goes on wherein Henriette met Sr. St. Marthe, a member of the French religious order, Dames Hospitalier, who impressed her with her words of faith and acts of charity. By 1829, at the age of 17, Henriette joined Juliette Gaudin, a Haitian, and Josephine Charles as they began efforts to evangelize New Orleans slaves and free people of color. A few years later, Henriette and her friends formed the Congregation of the Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

This was New Orleans' first confraternity of women of color. Service to the sick, the infirm and the poor was their primary mission.

By 1840, Bishop Antoine Blanc recognized their contributions and informed papal officials that this group of "pious women occupied in pious work" was active in the city, "assisting the sick, caring for the dying, teaching the young." As a result of Bishop Blanc's letter, the community formed an affiliation with the Solidarity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Rome.

Tribute to Henriette Delille
Henriette Delille

Once cannonized, Henriette Delille will have the distinction of being the first saint to have been born in New Orleans.

She was born in 1812, and at a young age, she formed a small group of devoted women who dedicated themselves to the service of slave children, the elderly, and the poor.

This group eventually became the Sisters of the Holy Family Order. The Order still exists today in Louisiana, Texas, Washington, D.C., Tennessee, Belize, Central America, and Benin City, West Africa. Henriette died in 1862 at the age of 50.

These two new stained glass windows appear in St. Louis Cathedral in New Orleans. They were designed and fabricated by Ruth Goliwas, a New Orleans artist.

Henriette Delille with children




The Sisters of the Holy Family trace their origins a religious community back to November 21, 1842 even though the Church hierarchy did not recognize them as a formal religious community until years later. It was in 1842 that Fr. Etienne Rousselon, St Louis Cathedral rector and Holy Family supporter, rented a house on Bayou Road for the community's ministry center.

This marked the beginning of community life for Henriette and her companions. After much controversy and aided by others who saw her worth, in 1851 Henriette located her community in the Bayou Road house she purchased with her inheritance. The Religious of the Sacred Heart in Convent, La. Provided Henriette, Juliette and Josephine spiritual formation and experience in formal religious community living.

On November 21, 1852, Henriette Delille, Juliette Gaudin and Josephine Charles took private vows. They vowed to Vicar General Rousselon and Archbishop Blanc to devote all they had of earthly means to establish an order for the education of young ladies of color, and the success and relief of poor old colored people and orphan girls.

Early account of the community's life and ministry tell of the hardships the nuns experienced . Henriette's own family disowned her. The sisters prospered through many hardships due to racism and epidemics of the yellow fever. The order received little or no attention until Mother Delille's death of November 16, 1862 at the age of fifty.

Mother Delille'e obituary stated, "Last Monday here died one of those women whose obscure and retired life has nothing remarkable in the eyes of the world, but it is full of merit before God."

When she was only 24 years old, living in a complex society and a hedonistic era, Henriette wrote in her prayer book, "I believe in God. I hope in God. I love and I want to live and die for God."

In November 1997, the U. S. Bishops unanimously supported the introduction of the cause of Mother Delille's beatification. Archbishop Francis B. Schultz of New Orleans presented the proposal stating, "For the love of Jesus Christ, (Mother Henriette) made herself the humble servant of slaves."

I concur with all of the above written by Ms. Merrick except the fact that Mother Henriette Delille was and still is a Creole of New Orleans, possessing African- American, born on U. S. soil, but the first Creole-American to be placed up for Sainthood and who will, with God's blessing, become the first Creole-American to become a Saint in the Catholic Church.

In Ms. Merrick's article she wrote that the famous Rudolph Desdunes, (who was no doubt about it a Creole) in his book, "Our People and Our History" described Mother Delille as one of the most remarkable women of "African descent" of the century. Note that his book was dedicated to the Creole Americans of his time who were famous and I seriously doubt that he would have described her ethnicity as such. (P.S.) I will take a special trip to read this book and make a copy of such statement.

At the Mass which was held in the honor of Mother Delille's canonization process, all brochures described her as " a descendant of slaves - a native born African-American." It would seem that in the year 2001, the ONE-DROP POLICY of the American yesteryear is still alive and well in America, even though we have more interracial unions than ever in history and the U.S. Census has agreed that a person is whomever he / she states that she is with the ability to check all of the racial categories.

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This is a write-up on Mother Henriette Delile