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The Sisters of the Holy Family (SSF; Latin: Soeurs de la Sainte Famille) are a Catholic religious order of African-American nuns based in New Orleans, Louisiana. They were founded in 1837 as the Congregation of the Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary by Henriette DeLille, adopting the current name in 1842. They were the second Black religious order in the United States, after Mother Mary Lange's Oblate Sisters of Providence.
Around 1829, Henriette DeLille joined Juliette Gaudin, a Haitian, and Josephine Charles and began efforts to evangelize New Orleans slaves and free people of color. Around 1836, they formed the Congregation of the Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, New Orleans' first confraternity of women of color.
Their unofficial habit was a plain blue dress, as they were not allowed by Bishop Antoine Blanc to wear real habits due to their being Black.
The congregation was established under the current name in 1842. They began as a diocesan congregation and were assisted by Marie Jeanne Aliquot, who as a white French woman was prevented by law from joining a congregation of women of color. The Religious of the Sacred Heart provided Henriette, Juliette and Josephine spiritual formation and experience in formal religious community living.
The Association of the Holy Family, a lay group of free persons of color contributed financially, and helped found the Hospice of the Holy Family, for the elderly sick and poor. Now called the Lafon Nursing Facility, it served a long term care facility and is the first and oldest Catholic nursing home in the United States. The sisters would take in sick and elderly women, providing care at their house on St. Bernard Avenue. After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, it was restored and reopened in 2010, and continues to provide nursing care.
In 1850 the order founded a school for girls. The sisters also provided a home for orphans and taught slaves at a time under Louisiana law when educating slaves was illegal.
They took private vows on November 21, 1852, as Bishop Antoine Blanc would not allow Black women to make public vows. He also did not allow them to publicly wear habits.
Father Etienne Rousselou, the congregation's advisor, named DeLille mother superior. She took the name Sister Mary Theresa; however, everyone called her Mother Henriette.
Their school, St. Mary's Academy, first opened on Chartres Street in December 1867.
In 1876, the sisters were finally allowed to wear their habits publicly. In 1887, their formal rule was approved by the bishop.
The academy moved to the Quadroon Ballroom on Orleans Avenue in 1881, and in 1921 the sisters assumed responsibility for a school for children of color from St. Francis de Sales Church; that school had been previously run by the Sisters of the Most Holy Sacrament.
SMA moved Chef Menteur Boulevard in New Orleans East in 1965.
The congregation has maintained their original ministries of educating youth and caring for the aged, and the poor. They have missions in Louisiana, Texas, California, Washington, D.C., and Belize. The sisters remain active in pastoral care and education ministry in Opelousas, Lafayette, and Ville Platte in the Diocese of Lafayette.
The Sisters of the Holy Family is a congregation of pontifical right. The motherhouse is in New Orleans, and as of 2015 its members numbered 96 sisters.
The order is headquartered a block away from the school. Their mission statement says:
The National Museum of African American History and Culture includes historic items from black Catholic communities, including Sisters of the Holy Family.
Due to some Sisters attending Xavier University of Louisiana, and working alongside the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, Xavier University Archives & Special Collections also holds a small collection on the history of the Sisters of the Holy Family.
Main article: Henriette DeLille
Their foundress Mother Henriette has been declared Venerable by the Catholic Church in 2010.
A street in New Orleans was named after her in 2011.
The actress Vanessa Williams produced a 2000 television movie, The Courage to Love, about Henriette Delille, in which she herself starred in the lead role.