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St. Mary’s Academy prepares to observe two milestones

5th November 2012   ·   0 Comments

By Kelly Parker
Contributing Writer

November will be a busy month for St. Mary’s Academy and the Sisters of the Holy Family.  On November 1, the New Orleans east school welcomed prospective students and families to its annual open house; demonstrating not only the school’s proud academic and extracurricular tradition, but also the history of Sisters of the Holy family and the birth of its noted foundress, Venerable Henriette Delille. From November 10th -18th, the order will commemorate 170 years of education and service, and Delille’s 200th birthday celebration.

“This is a time to celebrate the life of a woman who was courageous and started a community during a time when many thought that a Black woman could not live a chase life, and entering a white community was not an option,” says  Sr. Greta Jupiter, S.S.F.; Assistant Congregation Leader of the Sisters of the Holy Family says.  “After hurricane Katrina, the Sisters of the Holy Family recommitted themselves to the city of New Orleans, home of our foundress.”
Appropriately, the celebration begins with a feeding of the poor mission, at Ozanam Inn on Saturday, November 10th On Friday, November 16th, The Henriette Delille play will be performed at St. Mary’s Academy.

“It is very important to involve the student body in the play for Henriette Delille,” Sr. Greta adds. 

“This gives them a better understanding of the life that she lived, her spirituality and charism, and the struggles which she endured in servicing the poor.  Also, it teaches them about our beginnings and our mission in life.  The faculty and students are taught our charism which is compassion, healing, liberation and empowerment.  It is important that when the day comes when we will no longer have a Sister as an administrator of our institutions, that lay person who accepts the position will know and be able to demonstrate our charism.  Therefore, the spirit of Henriette Delille will live on in the community.”
There will be a symposium depicting the life, spirituality, genealogy and charism of Venerable Henriette Delille on Friday, November 16, 2012 at St. Mary’s Catholic Church, 1100 Chartres Street.

Delille was born in New Orleans in 1813; the daughter of a white man and a “free person of color,” Her  Roman Catholic parents could not be married under Louisiana law, but the arrangement was common in Creole society.

As a young girl, she worked within church institutions, but when she attempted to become a postulant (religious order applicant), she was refused by both Ursuline and Carmelite orders because of her race. If she’d passed for white, she most likely would have been admitted. But Delille refused, defying both her mother and two siblings. Influenced by Sister Marthe Fontier; who opened a school in New Orleans for girls of color, Delille work with slaves, nonwhites, and whites among the poor of New Orleans.

With a help of her friend Juliette Gaudin, also a free person of color, Delille established a home for the elderly and bought a house to teach religion, both serving nonwhites. In doing so, she defied the law against educating nonwhites.

With Gaudin and Josephine Charles, another free person of color, The Sisters of the Holy Family was founded in 1842, which also provided nursing care and a home for orphans.
When Delille was 24 years old, she committed herself to God and wrote a prayer in her book of devotions which guided her life: “I believe in God. I hope in God. I love. I want to live and die for God.”

“She was a great humanitarian,” Sr. Eva Regina Martin, S.S.F.; Congregational Leader of the Sisters of the Holy Family, said of Delille. “Despite unprecedented challenges, and insurmountable obstacles, she remained unfaltering in her dedication to the poor, to education, total care to the elderly, orphaned and needy; namely the outcast, enslaved and poor people. To accomplish this she became poor, gave away her possessions and remained committed to serving the unwanted and outcasts in the Treme area and other areas. This dedication spread to other parts of the city.” 

Henriette Delille died on November 17, 1862, at the age of 50. Her funeral services were held at the place in which she worshipped; St. Augustine Church in Treme’.  After her death, the order grew from the 12 members it included at the end of her lifetime to a peak of 400 in the 1950s.

In the 1960s, the sisters of the order began exploring canonization of Delille. The group formally opened their cause with the Vatican in 1989.  Delille’s canonization process was initiated by the late Archbishop Philip Hannan the year prior.  She has been recognized by the Church as a woman of heroic virtue and on March 27, 2011 she was proclaimed “Venerable” by Pope Benedict XVI. Delille is the first United States native born African American whose cause has been accepted by Rome.

“Working for the poor, elderly and marginalized was not popular in Henriette’s day nor is it popular today,” Sr. Greta Jupiter said. ”However; this is what we (The Sisters of the Holy Family) are committed to. Henriette saw education as a tool of empowerment, healing and liberation.  We hold that same conviction today.  For the past 170 years, we have educated and ministered to the poor, elderly, sick and marginalized from the cradle to their grave. Persons who have been educated by the Sisters have been taught that they are men and women of integrity, and sons and daughters of God.  We have many who have graduated from our schools who are civic leaders, attorneys, doctors, entrepreneurs and educators.  We have been complimented on the good work ethics of our students.”

In 2001, Lifetime (TV Network) premiered a movie about Henriette Delille, The Courage to Love, starring Vanessa Williams.  Last year, nine blocks of St. Claude Street; from St. Philip Street  to St. Bernard Avenue was renamed Henriette Delille Street.

“It was definitely a joyous occasion and a great honor when a street was named after Henriette Delille,” Sr. Greta told The Louisiana Weekly. “This means that she will always be remembered by the people in a city in which she loved and served.  She was known as the humble ‘Servant of slaves.’ “
 Venerable Delille passed a torch of courage and openhandedness to the Sisters of the Holy Family that was felt not only by members of the New Orleans community, but by the young ladies in which they educate.
 “It is a tremendous pleasure to be a part of the Maryite sisterhood,” says Chevelle O’Connor; from the SMA class of 1987. The tradition and the legacy that the Sisters of the Holy Family instill in us helps us grow into wonderful women of society and that is something to cherish.” Think back on my time there-with Sr. Timothy and some of the other sisters brings a smile to my face.”
The observance will conclude on Sunday, November 18th, with the Celebration of Founder’s Day/  Birthday celebration, with begins with a Mass at St. Louis Cathedral, 11am, followed by a
reception in the St. Louis Cathedral Garden.
In the spirit of its foundress and early predecessors, the Sisters of the Holy Family have continued to serve the elderly, youth and needy not only in the city of New Orleans, but throughout the United States, and beyond; in places such as Belize, Central America and Nigeria.
For times and more details on the scheduled events, go to   All activities are free and open to the public.

This article originally published in the November 05, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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