Mother Henriette Delille’s beatification cause on track
For a quarter century, the beatification of Henriette Delille, who founded the Sisters of the Holy Family in New Orleans in 1842 to minister to and educate slaves, has seemed like a distant, nearly unattainable dream.
Now, the ecclesiastical finish line – along with a glorious liturgical celebration that would accompany the first beatification of an African American Catholic and the first beatification ever on American soil – seems tantalizingly close.
Dr. Andrea Ambrosi, the distinguished Roman postulator for Mother Henriette’s beatification cause, told Tulane University historian Dr. Virginia Gould during a recent visit to Rome that her beatification cause remains on track. Always cautious never to presuppose a Vatican action, Ambrosi is decidedly upbeat, although the timeline ultimately rests with the process used by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints.
“He told me every time he goes to the congregation, they are all abuzz about her cause – they really can’t stop talking about her,” Gould said Aug. 25, shortly after updating the Sisters of the Holy Family about the status of the cause. “The congregation is dealing with hundreds of causes, but she is very important to them. They recognize how important she is to the international community.”
Mother Henriette is now declared venerable, meaning the Vatican has determined that she lived a life of sanctity and heroic virtue. In order to be declared blessed, the Vatican’s saint-making congregation must approve as miraculous the healing of Marilyn Groves, now a freshman at Rice University, from life-threatening double pneumonia and bacterial infection as a 4-year-old.
Groves, the grand niece of Sister of the Holy Family Doris Goudeaux, began to rally from her serious illness after her family prayed for her healing through the intercession of Mother Henriette.
One doctor already has given his opinion that the healing cannot be explained medically, and a second doctor is scheduled to give his report to the congregation, Gould said.
Celebration would be in N.O.
Once the congregation votes on the miracle, it would then be up to Pope Benedict XVI to declare her blessed. There is no firm timetable for how quickly the actual beatification Mass would follow, but it would be celebrated in New Orleans. Since Pope Benedict assumed his pontificate, beatifications have been held in the blessed’s home diocese, a departure from Pope John Paul II’s custom of holding beatifications in Rome.
No beatification ceremony has ever been held in the United States, which would add even greater significance to the event for the American church.
“He was extremely enthusiastic and very upbeat the whole time I was talking to him,” Gould said, noting that Ambrosi has a strong track record as a postulator for the causes of St. Andre Bessette and Blessed Basil Moreau. He is working on the causes of Pope John XXIII, Cardinal Terence Cooke, Cardinal John Henry Newman, Archbishop Fulton Sheen, Father Augustus Tolton, Father Emil Kapaun and Father Patrick Peyton.
“He said this was a very important cause,” Gould said.
Other signs of devotion
Gould delivered to Ambrosi the Family Prayer for the New Battle of New Orleans, which includes a reference to Mother Henriette and a brief biography of her by Gould and former archdiocesan archivist Dr. Charles Nolan. He also did not know that St. Louis Cathedral had created a prayer room in honor of Mother Henriette and that the New Orleans City Council had agreed to rename eight blocks of St. Claude Street in Tremé in her honor.
“He was excited because all these things are so important to demonstrate to the congregation that there is a very big devotion to her and that she is important in the city,” Gould said.
Sister Doris said the sisters who gathered at the Motherhouse in early August to receive the status update from Gould include former superior, Sister Mary Rose de Lima Hazeur, who asked Archbishop Philip Hannan to formally initiate the cause in 1986.
“We were all very happy to hear the news,” Sister Doris said.