- Henriette Delille Henriette Delille was the first part-Black woman-of-color born in the United States whose cause for canonization (into the status ofMessage 1 of 1 , Dec 17, 2006View Source
Henriette Delille was the first part-Black
woman-of-color born in the United States
whose cause for canonization (into the status
of religiouly pious sainthood) became "officially"
opened by the Roman Catholic religious institution.
At the early age of 14, Delille was one of ten
part-Black girls-of-color who taught religion
to the slaves of old New Orleans (a practice
which, at that time, was illegal in Louisiana)
Delille ancestral heritage was that of being a racial
admixed part-Black person who -- at that time
would have been referred to as being a Quadroon.
During that time, racially-mixed, free women-of-
color -- who were of the Quadroon categorization --
were often expected to participate in a social system
known as `placage' in which they were to be attend
a `Quadroon Ball' and find themselves selected by
a rich mono-racially `White' man who would then
expect her to live in a common-law relationship
wherein she would remain faithful to him in
exchange for his offer to act as her `protector'.
It should be noted that most of the women
considered these placage relationships to be a
valid-marriage since -- although marriage between
`Whites' and non-`Whites' was illegal in Louisiana
at that time -- the Roman Catholic Church was
generally willing to `baptize' the children produced
from the relationships and such `baptism' was
often seen at least "spiritually" as a way
of seeing the children as being "legitimately"
the same as those born in legal-wedlock
Upon witnessing how many of the 'Protectors'
treated the Mulatto and Quadrron women in, and
their own children which resulted from, this system of
placage (including the behavior of her own, apparently
formerly generous and doting, `White' father) Henriette
utterly refused to participate in the `Quadroon Ball' /
Placage system and instead decided she wanted
to offer a spiritual service to humankind and
that she could best do so by becoming a nun.
In 1836 she and others tried to establish an inter-racial
religious community, but found great resistance in the
laws and society of the time which forbad mono-racial
`Whites' and anyone who was any part-Black from
developing formal contractual agreements.
The setback only made her more determined.
Her biography states that she believed that
"One day, somehow, she, a woman of
African descent, would be a nun in New
Orleans, the slave mart of the country,
where her people were in distress and
no one was going to persuade her to
go elsewhere or do anything else."
Henriette's dream came closer to reality in 1842 when she
and two other formed a "pious union" which eventually
came to be known as the Sisters of the Holy Family.
The group cared for people who were elderly,
orphaned, illiterate, sick, dying and the poor people
who were of both full and / or any part-Black lineage
In 1852 this group took formal vows for the first time,
and in 1870 were officially-recognized by
their diocese as a religious community.
Their group was seen as so very controversial,
however, that it was not until 1872 that
they were allowed to wear a habit.
Her life-commitment continued to inspire
controversy in every part of New Orleans .
Those who were categorized as Quadroons
thought she was rebellious and stubborn.
Those who were categorized as `White' thought she
was uppity because she aspired to a life that they
had reserved for mono-racially `White' women.
The Sisters of her religious order were openly ridiculed
by 'White' women and sexually harassed by `White' men.
The institutional church regarded their work as "harmless"
religious education of people of any part-Black lineage.
The city regarded their work as defiance.
The men and women of New Orleans who were of
full and / or any part-Black lineage, regarded them
as "family" a pious family that comforted, fed, housed
and also educated the disinherited of American society.
Henriette died in 1862 - but her dream lived on in the Sisters
of the Holy Family religous order which is still in existence.
Her story has since piqued the interest of Hollywood
and Vanessa L. Williams, a Mixed-Race woman of
the African-American Ethnic grouping, portrayed
Henriette Delille in a 1999 made-for-TV movie
about Delille's life called "The Courage to Love".
In addition, biographies have been written of her by authors
Cyprian Davis; William Kellye; Audrey Marie Detiege;
Virginia Meacham Gould; and also David R. Collins.
PHOTOS OF ACTRESS,
'VANESSA L. WILLIAMS'