NEW ORLEANS — The Sisters of the Holy Family used a recent visit by Cardinal Peter Turkson to update him on the status of the sainthood cause for Mother Henriette Delille, the free woman of color who founded the congregation in New Orleans in 1842.
Mother Delille was declared “venerable” by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010 after what is now called the Dicastery for the Causes of Saints approved historical documentation that she had practiced a life of “heroic virtue.”
After eating breakfast with 35 sisters at the motherhouse Sept. 28, Turkson was briefed for 15 minutes on Mother Delille’s cause by Sister Alicia Costa, congregational leader; former congregational leader Sister Sylvia Thibodeaux, head of the Delille Commission Office; and Sister Jean Martinez, assistant congregational leader.
Documents detailing an alleged miraculous healing through Mother Delille’s intercession were submitted to the dicastery, also in 2010, but the sisters were told by the sainthood congregation that more information was needed.
In 2016, an investigation into another alleged miracle was launched by the Diocese of Little Rock, which issued a decree of judicial validity Dec. 7, 2018. The sisters are awaiting the results of that process. If that miracle is approved by the Vatican panel and, ultimately, by the pope, Mother Delille would be declared “blessed,” the third step in the canonization process.
Another miracle would be needed for Mother Delille’s canonization.
Turkson praised the sisters for continuing the 180-year ministry of their foundress, who educated the enslaved at a time in pre-Civil War New Orleans when that was against the law. Mother Delille also opened up a home to care for elderly African Americans.
“Sisters, I just want to encourage you and assure you of the support of our prayers and make myself an apostle of your congregation,” the cardinal told the nuns.
“That means, when I get to situations when I talk about this — in the Virgin Islands, in St. Thomas and St. Croix — I can tell people who are still thinking about this way of life that, please God, here is where they can come and serve the Lord,” he said.
Turkson was the first cardinal to visit the Sisters of the Holy Family. He was in New Orleans to address a Sept. 29-Oct. 1 symposium for Catholic business leaders held at Xavier University of Louisiana and Loyola University New Orleans.
“It’s not every day we get to have a cardinal visit our humble home,” Sister Costa told the Clarion Herald, New Orleans’ archdiocesan newspaper. “We are celebrating 180 years of existence this year, and that, in itself, is a miracle.”
Mother Delille is one of six African American Catholics up for sainthood.
The others are Mother Mary Lange, founder of the Oblate Sisters of Providence; Sister Thea Bowman, the first African American member of the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration; Julia Greeley, known as the city of Denver’s “Angel of Charity”; Father Augustus Tolton, the first recognized African American priest ordained for the U.S. Catholic Church — all four of whom have the title “Servant of God; and Pierre Toussaint, a Haitian American hairdresser, philanthropist and former slave brought to New York City. Like Mother Delille, he has the title “venerable.”
Finney is executive editor/general manager of the Clarion Herald, newspaper of the Archdiocese of New Orleans.