Even as a New Orleans native, there are many times that I drive around and have no clue who some of these streets are named after. The “Who Dat?” series is uncovering the history behind these people. This edition is dedicated to Henriette DeLille.
Henriette DeLille (1813-1865) was a French Creole woman from New Orleans, said to have grown up on the 500 block of Burgundy St. DeLille’s mother groomed her to find a wealthy, white partner in the plaçage system, which was a type of common-law marriage. (The women were not legally recognized as wives.) Henriette’s mother taught her French lit, dancing, nursing, and music to prepare her for this life. DeLille did not believe in this lifestyle, saying it was a violation of the sacrament of marriage.
Funeral records were found that she likely had 2 children out of wedlock, who both passed at very early ages. It is noted that after their deaths, she made it her intention to live a holy life.
By the age of 14, she was well educated and used that knowledge to teach and care for the poor.
At the age of 21, Henriette was confirmed in the Catholic Church.
Within a year of her confirmation, her mother suffered a nervous breakdown and the courts declared her incompetent. Henriette was then granted control of her assets. After making sure her mother was cared for, she sold off the rest of her property.
Soon after selling off all her mother’s property, she started a small order of nuns. Formed with other Creole women they continued what Henriette had already begun – caring for the sick, helping the poor, and educating free and enslaved people of color. The women opened the first home for the elderly in the United States. They were called Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
In 1842, the congregation was then located in Treme and renamed the Sisters of the Holy Family.
To continue their outreach, the nuns opened a school for free women of color on Bayou Road.
Henriette passed away at the age of 50 from tuberculosis, having devoted her life to caring for others, especially during the yellow fever epidemics.
Holy Family nuns continue her legacy. Most of their members are in New Orleans, Texas, California, Washington DC, & Belize.
Pope Benedict XVI approved her heroic virtues and named her Venerable on March 27, 2010. Later that year she was also given the title “Servant of God.” If her sainthood is ever affirmed, she would be the first New Orleanian and U.S. born black person to have this honor. The Vatican is still verifying miracles for her canonization.
Where is the street?
You can find Henriette DeLille St running from the Treme into the 7th Ward.
BONUS INFO! In 2001, the Lifetime channel released a movie about Henriette DeLille called “The Courage to Love” that featured Vanessa Williams.
Learn more about the Sisters of the Holy Family.