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448 • Part III. Christian Morality: The Faith Lived

permission was received from the bishop to start a religious congregation

of sisters for African American women. Devoted to poverty, chastity, obe-

dience, and service to the poor and enslaved, they called themselves the

Sisters of the Holy Family.

Henriette wrote at this time, “I believe in God. I hope in God. I love and

I want to live and die for God.” To gain financial support for her commu-

nity, Henriette created the Association of the Holy Family with members

from free families of African heritage. These associates benefited from the

spiritual life and prayers of the sisters and in turn gave them moral support

and financial assistance.

After a few years, Henriette opened a home for the elderly, the sick,

and the poor. She purchased a house that would serve as a community

center, where slaves and free blacks could come and socialize with each

other as well as learn the teachings of the Church. In time she founded

schools and orphanages for her people.

She found many ways to bring dignity to the life of black slaves. She

taught them they were free in the eyes of God for they were created in

his image. She devised ways to have the slaves enter into sacramental

marriages—a practice considered illegal because under the law, slaves

were not thought to be fully human, only property. Their marriages were

not considered valid in civil law, but for the Church, they were valid in

God’s eyes.

Henriette Delille died on November 17, 1862. Her obituary stated, “The

crowd gathered for her funeral testified by its sorrow how keenly felt was

the loss of her who for the love of Christ had made herself the humble

servant of slaves.”

The bishops of the United States have voted unanimously to endorse

the “the appropriateness and timeliness” of Mother Henriette’s cause for

sainthood. Today the Sisters of the Holy Family continue to operate in the

United States and several South American countries.


Mother Henriette Delille wanted nothing for herself and did not seek to

acquire for herself the goods of this world. Her embrace of poverty freed

her to seek the spiritual good of others.

17 Biography adapted from Ann Ball,

Modern Saints

(Rockford, IL: Tan Books, 1983).