A free woman of color, Henriette Delille was the great-granddaughter of an emancipated slave. She found her calling in faith and charitable works. In an inscription left behind in one of her books, she professed in French, “I believe in God. I hope in God. I love. I wish to live and die for God.” Her dedication to that faith was manifested in 1836 when she founded the Sisters of the Presentation, an informal religious community for women of color.

Together with fellow free women of color Josephine Charles and Juliette Gaudin, Delille provided religious instruction to free and slave children, served as a sponsor for baptisms, and cared for orphans, the elderly, and the poor. Over time, the three women moved toward a more formal religious life, taking vows before Father Etienne Rousselon, vicar general of the Diocese of New Orleans, in 1852.

Today, the religious order of women of color that Delille established is known as the Sisters of the Holy Family. Since her death, the sisters have continued her work, caring for the sick and elderly and operating schools and orphanages. In 1988 the Catholic Church began the process of considering Henriette Delille for sainthood.

Portrait of Henriette Delille (reproduction)

courtesy of the Sisters of the Holy Family

Henriette Delille sculpture


by Fay Stevenson-Smith

courtesy of the Sisters of the Holy Family