Henriette Delille was the founder of the Sisters of the Holy Family. Delille was a feminist, social worker, and highly regarded educator.
Delille was born a free woman of color in New Orleans in 1813. Her mother, Marie-Josèphe “Pouponne” Días, was a free woman of color of New Orleans. Her father Jean-Baptiste Lille Sarpy (var. de Lille) was born about 1758 in Fumel, Lot-et-Garonne, France. The two had a common-law marriage.
She along with a good friend, Cuban born Juliette Gaudin, worked to teach religion to slaves. They encouraged free quadroon women to select men of their own class and encouraged slave couples to have their unions blessed by the church.
In 1835, Delille sold all of her property hoping to build a community of Black nuns to teach in a school for free girls of color. After several failed attempts, Delille and Gaudin received permission from the diocese to begin a new religious order. The Sisters of the Holy Family Order was founded at St. Augustine’s Church in 1842. They were later joined by Josephine Charles.
The first three novices, Delille, Gaudin and Charles, are considered the founders of the congregation. Although the primary work of the sisters was in the area of education, during her tenure as head of the order. Delille also made it possible for the order to build a home for the sick, aged, and poor Black residents of the city. Henriette Delille died in 1862, during the American Civil War, when the city was occupied by Union troops.
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