by Christine Schenk

Every year, my friend and CSJ sister Juanita Shealey has a special celebration of Black History Month at our Cleveland motherhouse. Lovely African-American artifacts are prominently displayed and on Sunday, about 200 people will come to learn about black history. (“It’s all of our history,” Juanita emphasizes.) Our gathering area will be filled with the music, oratory and poetry of African-American culture and heritage.

Sr. Henriette Delille
Sr. Henriette Delille

When I ask Juanita how she came to join our then-all-white community over 60 years ago, she replies simply, “I came because of love, to serve the Lord. I knew from age 9 that I wanted to be a nun.” When I ask what it was that made her stay, she gives a one-word reply: “God.”

Juanita’s simplicity in naming God as the source of her persevering love resonates powerfully with that of another woman of color, Sr. Henriette Delille, who lived and ministered more than 150 years ago. Before it was legal for such a community to exist, Henriette founded the Sisters of the Holy Family, a religious community of African-American women in New Orleans.

Thanks to Juanita’s inspiration, I celebrate Black History Month with you this year by retelling the remarkable story of a woman known as “the servant of the slaves.” Henriette’s life bears witness to the paradoxical ways the Spirit blesses our faith and then, through our agency, turns unjust social structures upside down…

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