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The Sisters of the Holy Family and the Veil of Race

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 June 2018


In 1872, a young novice, Sister Marie, appeared at the door of the private study of Napoleon Perche, archbishop of New Orleans. This was not Sister Marie's first visit to the archbishop's residence. As a member of the religious order “last in rank” in the city, she was regularly called on to perform housekeeping duties for the archbishop and had worked for him in this capacity first as a postulant and later as a novice. Today, the reason for her visit was different: she appeared before him for the first time in a religious habit, which her order's mother superior, Josephine Charles, had designed and made. Mother Josephine was one of three founders of the Soeurs de Sainte-Famille or Sisters of the Holy Family (SSF), the order lowest in rank in New Orleans because its members were women of African descent.

Research Article
Copyright © Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture 2000

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Work on this essay was supported by a research grant to individuals from the American Academy of Religion, a faculty grant-in-aid from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Arizona State University (ASU), a summer grant and two minigrants from the Women's Studies Program and the Committee on African and African-American Studies at ASU, a travel grant from the Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism at the University of Notre Dame, and an Abigail Associates Grant from the Abigail Quigley McCarthy Center at the College of St. Catherine. I am further indebted to the Young Scholars in American Religion Program, funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts, at the Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture, Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis, in 1997-1998. For close readings of various drafts, I wish to thank Ava Chamberlain, Jennifer Drinen, Kathleen Joyce, Laura Levitt, Elizabeth McAlister, Deborah Dash Moore, Leonard Primiano, Jennifer Rycenga, and Paul Thigpen.

1. Audrey, Sister, Detiege, Marie, Henriette Delille: Free Woman of Color (New Orleans: Sisters of the Holy Family, 1976), 42 Google Scholar.

2. See Sister Mary Francis Borgia Hart, Violets in the King's Garden: A History of the Sisters of the Holy Family of New Orleans (B.A. thesis, Xavier University, 1931; rev. and repr., New Orleans: privately printed, 1976), 22.

3. This is the account given in Hart, Violets in the King's Garden, 21. Perche was no friend to Reconstruction; a decade earlier, as editor of New Orleans's La Propagateur Catholique, Perche had been vehemently proslavery and had joined other prominent Catholic and Protestant clergymen in defending the biblical sanction of slavery from “fanatical” abolitionists who would “desecrate” divine teachings. ( Smith, H. Shelton, In His Image, But…: Racism in Southern Religion, 1780-1910 [Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1972], 176 Google Scholar).

4. See Hart, Violets in the King's Garden, 21. More recent scholarship suggests that the sisters received their habit in 1869, not 1872. See Gould, Virginia Meacham and Nolan, Charles E., Henriette Delille: “Servant of the Black Slaves” (New Orleans: Sisters of the Holy Family, 1998), 17 Google Scholar.

5. Joseph H. Fichter notes that “there is no truth to the oft-repeated misapprehension that Catholic slave owners were ready to manumit any young slave woman who wanted to become a religious sister” (“The White Church and the Black Sisters,” U.S. Catholic Historian 12, no. 1 [Winter 1994]: 41).

6. See “The Greatest Gift of All”: A Pictorial Biography of Mother Henriette Delille, Foundress of the Sisters of the Holy Family (New Orleans: Heritage of America Foundation Press, 1992), 20.

7. Journal of Sister Mary Bernard Deggs, 1894-1896, manuscript in archives of the Sisters of the Holy Family; revised and edited typescript prepared by Cyprian Davis, O.S.B., Virginia Meacham Gould, Charles E. Nolan, and Sylvia Thibodeaux, S.S.F, 1997, 50. See also Hart, Violets in the King's Garden, 18. Deggs's Journal has emerged as one of the most important sources of information about the order's early years. Page numbers refer to those in the typescript of Davis and others. I am most grateful to this team of scholars for their editorial labors and to Sylvia Thibodeaux for making their typescript of the Journal available to me prior to its publication.

8. See Ochs, Stephen J., Desegregating the Altar: The Josephites and the Struggle for Black Priests (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1990), 26 Google Scholar. These abuses may have been perpetrated by racist white Catholics as well as by Protestants eager in their anti-Catholicism to prove their “Americanness” in culturally Latin New Orleans.

9. Interview with Sylvia Thibodeaux, S.S.F., November 1997.

10. Mary Ewens, O.P., “Removing the Veil: The Liberated American Nun of the Nineteenth Century,” Working Paper No. 3, Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism, University of Notre Dame, Spring 1978; Davis, Thadious, Nella Larsen, Novelist of the Harlem Renaissance: A Woman's Life Unveiled (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1994)Google Scholar.

11. See Franchot, Jenny, Roads to Rome: The Antebellum Protestant Encounter with Catholicism (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994)Google Scholar, esp. Introduction and Part One.

12. I owe this formulation to George Hutchinson's review of Thadious Davis's Nella Larsen. Hutchinson notes, “the perennial American tendency to scapegoat or repress interracial communion… [in the service of] reproducing the bipolar structure of American black/white racial culture at the expense of the interracial subject.” George Hutchinson, “Nella Larsen and the Veil of Race,” American Literary History 9, no. 2 (Summer 1977): 329. The title of Hutchinson's review also inspires the title I have chosen for this essay; I hope, however, that the different and multiple resonances of the term “veil of race” for the Sisters of the Holy Family will be evident.

13. Du Bois, W. E. B., The Souls of Black Volk, ed. Blight, David W. and Grady-Williams, Robert (New York: Bedford Books, 1997), 38 Google Scholar.

14. Detiege notes that “all th[e] business [related to the founding of the SSF] had to be done orally in a society where the black race was in slavery. … Hence, nothing would be written in newspapers, Journals, letters, or minute books of the deliberations of ecclesiastical or civil authorities about these Sisters.” Detiege, Henriette Delille, 41-42.

15. See Margaret Susan Thompson, “Philemon's Dilemma: Nuns and the Black Community in Nineteenth-Century America: Some Findings,” Records of the American Catholic Historical Society of Philadelphia 96, nos. 1-4 (March-December 1985): 6. Thompson discovers other fascinating instances of the American Catholic church suppressing or veiling its own interracial past. For example: “The only full-length history of the Mount St. Vincent Sisters of Charity describes Mother Mary Rosina Wrightman (1825-1894) as ‘this most hidden of the Community's Mothers general,’ identifying her only as a descendent ‘of an old English Puritan family,’ born in Charleston, South Carolina, ‘a southerner to her fingertips, with all of the gracious charm embedded in the traditions of the deep south’… What it does not say—indeed, what it strives mightily to obscure—is that Mother Rosina was legally black. It is this, in fact, that accounts for her ‘elusiveness … which [has] not yielded thus far to painstaking research’; one of her successors, embarrassed when she learned of Wrightman's race, destroyed everything in the archives that pertained to her—except a prayerbook and a rosary” (6).

Perhaps further contributing to their invisibility, the Sisters of the Holy Family are implicated in a history of promoting self-help among Afri-can Americans that appears to sit uneasily with some white liberal percep-tions. In an article provocatively titled “Should We Blame the Nuns for Clar-ence Thomas?” (Humanist 51, no. 6 [November/December 1991]: 23-25, 45), Tom Foster Digby III opines that “the last thing our government needs is one more paternalistic moralizer who tries to engender self-improvement through inspirational illusions” (25), concluding that, perhaps, “Thomas's experience just wasn't severe enough; instead of the blood-soaked lash and feeding trough, he got an education from the nuns. That's an opportunity not available to the vast majority of young African-Americans” (45). Digby's seems a signal instance of what Judith Butler identifles as that species of “white guilt,” which, “when it is not lost to self-pity … produces a para-lytic moralizing that requires racism to sustain its own sanctimonious pos-turing; precisely because white moralizing is itself nourished by racist pas-sions, it can never be the basis on which to build and affirm a Community across difference; rooted in the desire to be exempted from white racism, to produce oneself as the exemption, this strategy virtually requires that the white Community remain mired in racism; hatred is merely transferred outward, and thereby preserved, but it is not overcome.” Butler, Judith, Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of “Sex” (New York: Routledge, 1993), 277 n. 14Google Scholar.

16. Detiege, Henriette Delille, M-41.

17. Letter from Janssens to Father John Slattery, Superior General of the Josephites, quoted in Fichter, “The White Church and the Black Sisters,” 32; Hart, Violets in the King's Garden, 48-49.

18. See, e.g., George Washington Cable, Creoles and Cajuns (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1959).

19. This is a Synopsis of the stories told by Detiege and Hart and recorded in pamphlets and newsletters distributed by the SSF in the 1980's and early 1990's.

20. On Catholic “causes” and the saint-making process more generally, see Woodward, Kenneth L., Making Saints: How the Catholic Church Determines Who Becomes a Saint, Who Doesn't, and Why (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1990)Google Scholar.

21. See Joseph H. Fichter, “A Saintly Person of Color,” America 166 (February 29,1992): 156-67, esp. 157; and Detiege, Henriette Delille, 22.

22. See Detiege, Henriette Delille, 29-31. Cyprian Davis notes that “American bishops had recourse to Rome concerning the validity of slave marriages and the permission for the clandestined marriage of slaves.” Cyprian Davis, O.S.B., “The Future of African-American Catholic Studies,” U.S. Catholic Historian 12, no. 1 (Winter 1994): 6.

23. On the limited protections and privileges afforded by this Status, see Berlin, Ira, Slaves without Masters: The Free Negro in the Antebellum South (New York: Pantheon Books, 1974)Google Scholar; Blassingame, John W., Black New Orleans (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1973 Google Scholar); Rodolphe Desdunes, Our People and Our History: A Tribute to the Creole People of Color in Memory of the Great Men They Have Given Us and the Good Works They Have Accomplished, ed. and trans. Sister Dorothea Olga McCants (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1977); King, Grace, New Orleans: The Place and the People (New York: Macmillan, 1913)Google Scholar; Alice Dunbar Nelson, “People of Color in Louisiana,” Journal of Negro History 1, no. 4 (October 1916): 361-76; 2, no. 1 (January 1917): 51-78; Aline St. Julien, Colored Creole: Color, Conßct, and Confusion in New Orleans (New Orleans: Ahidania-Habari, 1977); and Sterkx, H. E., The Free Negro in Ante-bellum Louisiana (Rutherford, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1972)Google Scholar.

24. According to Detiege, “Henriette was … instructed by her mother in the art of nursing. How to prepare medicines for the sick using roots and herbs with curative properties was a skill that was passed on from mother to daughter by these colored nurses.” Detiege, Henriette Delille, 17.

25. This is also true of the Spiritual lives of the sisters more generally. Cyprian Davis observes that “the question of black spirituality” has “scarcely been treated” within the broader context of black Catholic history. Davis suggests that we look to the newspapers and bulletins of black Catholic churches, their hymnals, inventories, and minute books for “mark[s of] the individuality of the Black Catholic religious experience.” Davis, “The Future of African-American Catholic Studies,” 4. While such research is beyond the scope of the present study, Davis's own biography of Henriette Delille, now in progress, is sure to include welcome attention to such sources.

26. As quoted in Fichter, “The White Church and the Black Sisters,” 39. Fichter and others speculate that it was Aliquot's sponsorship of Delille and Gaudin that made her odious to the Ursulines.

27. Deggs, Journal, 5.

28. Hart, Violets in the King's Garden, 19.

29. Deggs commented on the new Jim Crow laws, invoking what she sees as the sisters’ implicit privileges of their caste, now submerged under the nation's new racial dynamics: “Many tried to impose themselves on persons of a more superior rank and did not keep their places until invited to a more superior place. And what is the result? They are driven from their pres-ence and not even allowed to ride in the steam car [i.e., train] with them. Those are the instructions. They are treated just the same as those who had no hand in signing the bills in Baton Rouge or at the White House in Washington City.” Deggs, Journal, 89.

30. This revised account is drawn from Fichter, “The White Church and the Black Sisters”; from the Henriette Delille Guild Newsletter, Servant of the Poor 1, nos. 1-3 (Fall 1997, Winter and Spring 1998); from papers presented by Cyprian Davis, Charles E. Nolan, Virginia Meacham Gould, and Sylvia Thibodeaux at the 1997 meeting of the American Catholic Historical Association in New York City, later brought together in summary form in Davis and others, “‘No Cross, No Crown’: The Journal of Sister Mary Bernard Deggs,” US. Catholic Historian 15, no. 3 (Fall 1997): 17-28; from interviews conducted with Nolan and with Thibodeaux and other Holy Family sisters in 1997, and from Gould and Nolan, Henriette Delille, in addition to sources listed in the notes. I am especially grateful to Nolan for making new work on Delille's genealogy available.

31. Detiege, Henriette Delille, 22. There is no mention in Delille's obituary (which recalls her as “Miss,” not Mother or sister) of her race.

32. Robert Tallant notes Laveau's interventions on behalf of one Anthony Deslisle in Voodoo in New Orleans (New York: Collier Books, 1946; repr. Gretna, La.: Pelican, 1990), 69-71. Tallant's work is a popularized but still useful account of the subject.

33. See Hart, Violets in the King's Garden, 2.

34. Deggs, Journal, 46.

35. For a fascinating account of Lenten Vodou celebrations in Haiti, see McAlister, Elizabeth, “The Jew in the Haitian Imagination,” in Black Zion: African American Religious Interpretations of Judaism, ed. Chireau, Yvonne and Deutsch, Nathaniel (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 203-28Google Scholar. On Vodou in the African diaspora, see, for example, Dayan, Joan, Haiti, History, and the Gods (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995)Google Scholar; Desmangles, Leslie, The Faces of the Gods: Vodou and Roman Catholicism in Haiti (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1992)Google Scholar; and Brown, Karen McCarthy, Mama Lola: A Vodou Priestess in Brooklyn (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991)Google Scholar. On Africanisms in colonial Louisiana, see Thomas Marc Fiehrer, “The African Presence in Colonial Louisiana: An Essay on the Continuity of Caribbean Culture,” in Louisianas Black Heritage, ed. Robert R. MacDonald, John R. Kemp, and Edward F. Haas (New Orleans: Louisiana State Museum, 1979), 3-31; in American culture more generally, see Holloway, Joseph E., Africanisms in American Culture (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990)Google Scholar. In “‘No Cross, No Crown’: The Journal of Sister Mary Bernard Deggs,” Davis and others note the difn'culties of identifying Africanisms in the religious practice of SSF, although they do point to possible African influence on the storytelling style of Deggs.

36. Philip Hannan, archbishop of New Orleans, in “The Greatest Gift of All,” 13.

37. Nolan and Gould note that, “in order to free Betsy, Delille would have had to post a sizable bond and Betsy would have had to leave the State. It is possible that Betsy did not wish to leave New Orleans, but found her safety under Delille's protection.” In her will, Delille bequeathed Betsy to her brother Jean Delille. Nolan and Gould, Henriette Delille, 15. On slaveholding Catholic Orders, see Joseph Butsch, S.S.J., “Negro Catholics in the United States,” Catholic Historical Review 3 (April 1917): 33-51; Emmett Curran, “‘Splendid Poverty’: Jesuit Slaveholding in Maryland, 1805-1838,” in Catholics in the Old South: Essays on Church and Culture, ed. Randall M. Miller and Jon L. Wakelyn (Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 1983), 125-46; and Sister Frances Jerome Woods, “Congregations of Religious Women in the Old South,” in Catholics in the Old South, ed. Miller and Wakelyn, 99-123.

38. See Blassingame, Black New Orleans, 10-11; and Judith Schafer, “‘Open and Notorious Concubinage’: The Emancipation of Slave Mistresses by Will and the Supreme Court in Antebellum Louisiana,” Louisiana History 28, no. 2 (Spring 1987): 165-82. For more on the creation of a free black society in New Orleans in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, see Catherine Clinton and Michelle Gillespie, eds., The Devil's Lane: Sex and Race in the Early South (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997); and Hanger, Kimberly S., Bounded Lives, Bounded Places: Free Black Society in Colonial New Orleans, 1769-1803 (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1997)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

39. See Blassingame, Black New Orleans, 2-9. Catholicism may also have contributed to that fluidity. See Elkins, Stanley, Slavery: A Problem in American Institutional and Intellectual Life (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1959)Google Scholar; and Paul Giles, “Catholic Ideology and American Slave Narratives,” U.S. Catholic Historian 15, no. 2 (Spring 1997): 55-66.

40. See Fichter, “The White Church and the Black Sisters,” 40-42.

41. Blassingame, Black New Orleans, 16 (see also Sterkx, The Free Negro in Ante-bellum Louisiana, 257); Lorenzo de Zavola, Viage a Los EstadosUnidos del Norte de America (1829), as quoted in Rev. Joseph Paul Ryan, A.F.M., “Travel Literature as Source Material for American Catholic History, Part 3” Illinois Catholic Historical Review (April 1928): 317. Zavola neglects to mention that the “Catholic priest,” like his white Protestant counterpart in antebellum Louisiana, did little, in his ministrations, to free the “miserable slave” from slavery.

42. Fichter, “A Saintly Person of Color,” 157.

43. For more on the Code Noir, see Butsch, “Negro Catholics in the United States.”

44. Woodson, Carter C., The Education of the Negro Prior to 1861 (Washington, D.C.: Associated Publishers, 1919), 128-29Google Scholar.

45. As quoted in Fichter, “The White Church and the Black Sisters,’ 33.

46. See Detiege, Henriette Delille, 10-13; Blassingame, Black New Orleans, 19-20; and Sterkx, The Free Negro in Ante-bellum Louisiana, 243-45.

47. As Hart put it, “truly New Orleans is paradoxical, and nowhere is this more in evidence than in her dealings with the Negro,’ Hart, Violets in the King's Garden, 2.

48. Blassingame, Black New Orleans, 210; as quoted in ibid., 201; Hanger, Bounded Lives, Bounded Places, 15. The fluidity of racial codes did not always tend toward greater freedom and agency for those subjected to them. As an example of the malleability of race, Hanger points to the likelihood that hundreds of Native Americans were reclassified as persons of African descent when the Spanish colonial government of Louisiana outlawed Indian slavery. Indians, recognized as a separate racial category by French colonial census takers before 1769, disappeared from the census rolls under Spanish rule between 1769 and 1803. During this period, residents of the colony were classified as either white, free pardo (a light-skinned person of African descent), free moreno (a dark-skinned person of African descent), slave pardo, or slave moreno, a strategy that circumvented the new restrictions against Indian slavery by reclassifying Indian slaves along with African American slaves as either pardos or morenos (15).

49. See Haskins, James, The Creoles of Color of New Orleans (New York: Crowell, 1975)Google Scholar; Desdunes, Our People and Our History; and St. Julien, Colored Creole.

50. On the use and mythologization of the term “Creole” by Louisianians, see Joseph G. Tregle, Jr., “Early New Orleans Society: A Reappraisal,” Journal of Southern History 18, no. 1 (February 1952): 20-36.

51. Sister M. Boniface Adams, S.S.F., The Sisters of the Holy Family (New Orleans: privately printed, 1987), 2; George Washington Cable, ed., “War Diary of a Union Woman in the South,” in Famous Adventures and Prison Escapes of the Civil War (New York, 1893), 5, as quoted in Henry A. Kmen, Music in New Orleans: The Formative Years, 1791-1841 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1966), 55.

52. Quoted in Sterkx, The Free Negro in Ante-bellum Louisiana, 253. The writer appears to refer here to the male children of mixed-race unions who passed as white among their white fathers’ legitimate daughters and wives. For some examples, see Blassingame, Black New Orleans, 20. In another twist, white women were known to attend the quadroon balls, passing them-selves off as light-skinned quadroons. According to an 1837 editorial in the New Orleans Picayune, “they go so habited that there is no discovering whether they are black or white” (October 27,1837, as quoted in Kmen, Music in New Orleans, 52). Populär accounts of the quadroon balls are typically ro-manticized; see, for example, W. McFadden Duffy, “‘Ladies of Color.’” Roosevelt Review 2, no. 9 (September 1938): 27-28, 48-54; and Stephen Long-street, Sportin’ House: A History of the New Orleans Sinners and the Birth of jazz (Los Angeles: Sherbourne Press, 1965), 109-27.

53. King, New Orleans, 334.

54. On the legal condition of antebellum free blacks in Louisiana, see Blassingame, Black New Orleans, 1-24; and Sterkx, The Free Negro in Antebellum Louisiana, 160-99. On the requirement that free blacks belong to guilds or other “respectable” organizations, see also Hart, Violets in the King's Garden, 3, 4. Delille's desire to incorporate her religious association may have been, in part, a response to such legislation.

55. See Sterkx, The Free Negro in Ante-bellum Louisiana, 154.

56. See Fichter, “A Saintly Person of Color,” 157.

57. If free people of color assiduously enforced their own discriminations, it was nevertheless true that many light-skinned runaway slaves fled to New Orleans, since there they would not be recognized as black. See Sterkx, The Free Negro in Ante-bellum Louisiana, 151.

58. Deggs, Journal, 3, 12, 38.

59. This is the case in the histories written by Deggs, Hart, and Detiege, as well as in those written by persons outside of their order. See, e.g., Joseph B. Code, “Negro Sisterhoods in the United States: A Record of Fellowship and Love,” America, January 8,1938, 318-19; Duffy, “‘Ladies of Color’”; Charles Rousseve, The Negro in Louisiana: Aspects ofHis History and His Literature (New Orleans: Xavier University Press, 1937); and Donald Edward Everett, “Free Persons of Color in New Orleans, 1803-1865” (Ph.D. diss., Tulane University, 1952).

60. Deggs, Journal, 34.

61. Deggs notes that the early sisters frequently resorted to begging to support their order and that they often suffered for want of food and money; laundering and sewing became crucial means of support. At about the same time that Deggs was writing, black washerwomen in the South exercised their own forms of resistance to racial oppression. See Tera Hunter, “Domination and Resistance: The Politics of Household Labor in New South Atlanta,” Labor History 34 (Spring-Summer 1993): 205-20.

62. See Hart, Violets in the King's Garden, 19.

63. Deggs, Journal, 3, 5.

64. Ibid., 29-30 (emphasis added).

65. Recently, a member of the SSF has written: “For more than a hundred years, the Holy Family sisters have courageously contradicted the racial myth that holiness and virtue were prerogatives of the white race alone. Being virtuous has nothing to do with white or black blood, but rather with the heart and the head. From the time of slavery to the present, these sisters have demanded high intellectual and moral excellence of the women of their race.” Sisters of the Holy Family, Did You Know? (New Orleans: privately printed, n.d.), unnumbered page.

66. Deggs, Journal, 41; Hart, Violets in the King's Garden, 4.

67. “An 1838 Baptism,” Servant of the Poor 1, no. 3 (Spring 1998): 2.

68. Hart, Violets in the King's Garden, iv.

69. Deggs, Journal, 40, 53.

70. Ibid., 66.

71. See Longstreet, Sportin'House, 113.

72. Deggs, Journal, 215.

73. Sisters of the Holy Family, Henriette Delille (New Orleans: privately printed, n.d.), 6. Deggs wrote that the Civil War “demolished the whole country and has nearly put a stop to the beautiful charity of our noblehearted Catholic females.” Deggs, Journal, 79.

74. Blassingame, Black New Orleans, 33; Hanger, Bounded Lives, Bounded Places, 169-70.

75. Fichter, “The White Church and the Black Sisters,” 45.

76. Hart, Violets in the King's Garden, 16.

77. Deggs, Journal, 6. See also Hart, Violets in the King's Garden, 16-17.

78. The order of General Benjamin Butler is reprinted in Ryan, Mary, Women in Public: Between Banners and Ballots (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1990), 2 Google Scholar.

79. Deggs, Journal, 7.

80. In true New Orleans fashion, the sisters conformed belatedly to the new law. Hart records that a former Student of the order, Mrs. Breslau, recalled that “after the Civil War until 1880 both colored and white attended school without any distinction. But after 1881 the Separation was made.” Hart, Violets in the King's Garden, 22.

81. Deggs, Journal, 19.

82. See Hart, Violets in the King's Garden, 20.

83. Deggs, Journal, 17-18, 27.

84. As quoted in John Hennessey, S.J., American Catholics (New York: Oxford University Press, 1981), 161.

85. See Diane Batts Morrow, “The Oblate Sisters of Providence: Issues of Black and Female Agency in the Antebellum Experience, 1828-1860” (Ph.D. diss., University of Georgia, 1996); and Sister M. Reginald Gerdes, O.S.P, “To Educate and Evangelize: Black Catholic Schools of the Oblate Sisters of Providence, 1828-1880,” U.S. Catholic Historian 7, nos. 2-3 (SpringSummer 1988): 183-99; 194. According to Deggs, “the Oblate Sisters accused our Sisters of having influenced the people against them and also said that we wanted their places. But that was a falsehood. We had more work than we could do, for our schools at that time were at all times packed Our people have more confidence in their own people than in strangers.” Deggs, Journal, 30. Archbishop Odin, who had invited the Oblate Sisters to New Orleans, died in 1870 and was succeeded by Archbishop Perche, who may have been even less hospitable to them than Odin was.

86. See Cheryl Townsend Gilkes, “Together in Harness: Women's Traditions in the Sanctified Church,” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 10, no. 4 (Fall 1985): 648-69.

87. See, e.g., Illustrated Guide to … the World's Exposition at New Orleans, La. (Chicago: Vandercook, 1884); and William Head Coleman, comp., Historical Sketchbook and Guide to New Orleans and Environs (New York: W. H. Coleman, 1885).

88. See Delores Egger Labbé, Jim Crow Comes to Church (1971; repr., New York: Arno Press, 1978). The racial segregation of the Catholic church proceeded unevenly into the twentieth Century but was sufficiently marked by the mid-1920's to lead W. E. B. Du Bois to comment that “the Catholic church in America Stands for color Separation and discrimination to a degree equalled by no other church in America, and that is saying a very great deal.” Quoted in Manning Marable, “The Black Faith of W. E. B. DuBois: Sociocultural and Political Dimensions of Black Religion,” Southern Quarterly 23, no. 2 (Spring 1985): 25. For a dissenting view, see the Harlem Renaissance writer Claude McKay, “On Becoming a Roman Catholic,” Epistle 2 (Spring 1945): 43-45.

89. Blassingame, Black New Orleans, 199.

90. As quoted in Fichter, “The White Church and the Black Sisters,” 48. The Catholic church in New Orleans was not immune to pressures exerted by both the white Catholic Community and the Catholic church as a whole. In 1875, a “white league” in Catholic New Orleans fought for and achieved the temporary spatial segregation of the St. Louis Cathedral, but a boycott by black parishioners returned the Cathedral to integrated pews (Blassingame, Black New Orleans, 200-201).

91. Roussève, The Negro in Louisiana, 139.

92. See Deggs's comments on the Jim Crow laws, n. 29 above.

93. Blassingame, Black New Orleans, 201.

94. M. Shawn Copeland, “A Cadre of Women Religious Committed to Black Liberation: The National Black Sisters Conference,” U.S. Catholic Historian 14, no. 1 (Winter 1996): 139. On conflicts between the NBSC and historically black Orders, see ibid., 142-43. Sylvia Thibodeaux, now superior of the order and coordinator for the canonization cause of Henriette Delille, is one Holy Family sister who was active in the NBSC.

95. A copy of the catalog of the SSF's St. Mary's Academy, probably printed in the 1920's, says that “the congregation of the Sisters of the Holy Family (a colored sisterhood) was founded in 1842 by the very Rev. Abbe Rousselon.” Catalog in the archives of the Historie New Orleans Collection, n.d., unnumbered page. Delille begins most clearly to emerge into visibility in Sister Audrey Detiege's 1976 pamphlet: “Since Henriette Delille has been but a vague name, one of the purposes of this little booklet is to make this woman of African descent a real person who once lived and struggled to actually achieve in a milieu of bondage.” Detiege, Henriette Delille, 4.

96. This was my observation on first visiting the Holy Family motherhouse in the spring of 1993.

97. Peter W. Clark, “A Litany of Faith, Hope, and Charity,” in “The Greatest Gift of Ml,” 40; “Bishops Praise Mother Henriette,” New Orleans Clarion-Ledger, November 13, 1997, 1, 8.

98. Harryette Mullen, “Optic White: Blackness and the Production of Whiteness,” Diacritics: A Review of Contemporary Criticism 24, nos. 2-3 (Summer-Fall 1994): 72.

99. Deggs, Journal, 35. Attending with nuanced speeificity to race, Deggs at the same time often resorts to an elitism of class, conspicuously noting that the SSF's early members came only from the “best” families. On the problems and resources that such a “politics of respeetability” creates for racial liberation, see White, Deborah Grey, “The Cost of Club Work, the Price of Black Feminism,” in Visible Women: New Essays on American Activism, ed. Hewitt, Nancy A. and Lebsock, Suzanne (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1993), 247-69Google Scholar; and Higginbotham, Evelyn Brooks, Righteous Discontent: The Women's Movement in the Black Baptist Church (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1993)Google Scholar.

100. Onita Estes-Hicks, “Henriette Delille: Free Woman of Color, Candidate for Roman Catholic Sainthood, Early Womanist,” in Perspectives on Womanist Theology, ed. Jacquelyn Grant (Atlanta: ITC Press, 1995), 53, 51.

101. As hooks puts it, writing of miscegenation in American history and its representations in populär culture, “[u]ncontrollable lust between white … and black [persons] is not taboo. It becomes taboo only to the extent that such lust leads to the development of a committed relationship.” bell hooks, “Seduction and Betrayal: The Crying Game Meets The Bodyguard,” in Outlaw Culture: Resisting Representations (New York: Routledge, 1997), 57.

102. Deggs, Journal, 35, 89,12-13.

103. Sisters of the Holy Family, Henriette Delille, 5.

104. I mean here to signal a range of desires for forms of Community that cross and disrupt racial barriers, a range that may include (but is, of course, not limited to) sexual desire. For constructive, unsentimental reflections on the power of love in overcoming racism, see hooks, bell, “Beloved Community: A World without Racism,” in Killing Rage: Ending Racism (New York: Henry Holt, 1995), 263-72Google Scholar; and bell hooks, “Love as the Practice of Freedom,” in Outlaw Culture, 243-50.

105. “The Greatest Gift of All,”17.

106. David W. Wills, “The Central Themes of American Religious History: Pluralism, Puritanism, and the Encounter of Black and White,” Religion and Intellectual Life 5 (Fall 1987): 30-41; Tweed, Thomas A., “Introduction: Narrating U.S. Religious History,” in Retelling U.S. Religious History, ed. Tweed, Thomas A. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997), 3 Google Scholar; Hackett, David, “Introduction,” in Religion and American Culture: A Reader, ed. Hackett, David (New York: Routledge, 1995), ixGoogle Scholar.

107. Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, “African-American Women's History and the Metalanguage of Race,” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 17, no. 1 (Winter 1992): 273-74; James C. Scott, Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990), 183; Tweed, “Narrating U.S. Religious History,” 10.