Henriette Delille vs. Absalom Jones

Whether or not you missed us this weekend is immaterial. Because we're back! This week we'll be finishing up the opening Round of 32 and kicking off the Saintly Sixteen on Thursday.

Today Henriette Delille faces Absalom Jones, as two modern(ish) American saints go head-to-head.

In case you missed the Friday results, Benedict the Moor defeated Nino of Georgia 68% to 32%. He'll face Euphrosyne in the next round. Now go vote!

Henriette Delille
Henriette Delille (1813-1862) had a very specific education. She was the Creole daughter of a freed woman and a European father in New Orleans. Her parents had a common-law marriage under the plaçage system. In this system, European men entered into a common-law marriage with women of color. When the man became financially established, then he would marry a white woman. There was an understanding that he would continue to provide food, shelter, and education for children of the common-law marriage.

Henriette lived in the French Quarter, and she was groomed to follow in her mother’s footsteps and expected to marry a European man in New Orleans society. As a young woman, her mother educated her in literature, music, medicine, and dancing. Henriette wore fine gowns and made her rounds at the balls, while her mother hoped that she would make a match that would increase their family’s security.

When Henriette was a teenager, she gave birth to two sons. Both of them died at a young age. Henriette also began to teach at the local Catholic school for girls of color. During this time, her dedication to the poor in the city grew, and she began to question the plaçage system.

While her mother tried to entice Henriette with the trappings of New Orleans society, children in poverty captured Henriette’s attention. While the family tried to educate her so that she would be accepted in higher classes, she used her knowledge to educate slaves, even when the law prohibited their education. Henriette’s brother urged her to stop working with the Creole community, because it highlighted the family’s identity as formerly enslaved. While her family’s property was supposed to establish her family in New Orleans’ society, Henriette Delille used it to educate, care, and shelter.

Eventually, Henriette Delille found her identity in another family. She started the order of the Sisters of the Holy Family that was made up of free women. They provided nursing care for the elderly and a home for orphans. The order grew after Delille’s death, and the parochial schools that the order founded became instrumental in educating children in the Jim Crow South.

Collect for Henriette Delille
Almighty God, You gave to your servant Henriette special gifts of grace to understand and teach the truth as it is in Christ Jesus: Grant that by this teaching we may know you, the one true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

—Carol Howard Merritt


Absalom Jones
Absalom Jones was born in Sussex, Delaware, in 1746. After being sold to a farmer, that owner sold Absalom’s mother and the rest of his family to another slaveholder and moved with Absalom to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, when Absalom was sixteen. Absalom’s owner was a member of Christ Episcopal Church, and when Absalom met and married his wife Mary, the priest of Christ Church married them in 1770.

Because children took the mother’s status in the colonial states, Absalom purchased his wife’s freedom so that their children would be born free. When Absalom was thirty-eight, his owner finally freed him. Absalom added Jones to his name since enslaved people were typically forced to take their owners’ names, and upon freedom, assumed their own names.

The Methodist church allowed Black people to attend and lead, and Absalom Jones and his friend Richard Allen were among the first African Americans to be licensed to preach in the 1780s. But being allowed to do something doesn’t mean being granted full authority and equality. When informed that they would be segregated to the church’s perimeter and balcony, Jones and most of the other African Americans walked out.

In 1787, Jones and Allen founded the Free African Society, an organization created to provide the African American community’s social, economic, educational, and spiritual needs in Philadelphia. The Free African Society established a strict code, including dues paid by all members to benefit those in need, mainly widows and orphans. The first African American church grew out of this organization’s commitment to Christian community and ethics. When the yellow fever epidemic hit the Philadelphia area in 1793, twenty times more Blacks than Whites helped those afflicted, thanks to The Free African Society. When the Society began to establish The African Church in 1792, Jones founded the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas.

Ordained a deacon in 1795 and a priest in 1802, Absalom Jones was the first African American priest in the Episcopal Church. In 1973, the Episcopal Church established February 13 as the feast day for remembering and honoring Jones’ ministry and life. No matter your race or ethnicity, we’ve all been blessed by his relentless pursuit to diversify the Episcopal Church.

Collect for Absalom Jones
Set us free, heavenly Father, from every bond of prejudice and fear; that, honoring the steadfast courage of your servant Absalom Jones, we may show forth in our lives the reconciling love and true freedom of the children of God, which you have given us in your Son our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

—Miriam Willard McKenney


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Henriette Delille: Wikicommons, public domain
Absalom Jones: Raphaelle Peale / Public domain


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151 comments on “Henriette Delille vs. Absalom Jones”

  1. I would vote for Absalom Jones because I was raised in lower Delaware and served as priest in Milford in the church which established a shrine to him. Yet, he’s so well known and Henriette is not. So it’s important to me to raise her up.

  2. Gotta go with Absalom just because he's Absalom, the first clear African American honored by our church, But frankly I love Henriette and agree that these two should have been in differing brackets and not in competition (at least at this stage) with each other

  3. Gotta go with Absalom just because he's Absalom, the first clear African American honored by our church, But frankly I love Henriette and agree that these two should have been in differing brackets and not in competition (at least at this stage) with each other

  4. This is a year of difficult choices. I am delighted to make the acquaintance of Henriette. I would like to know more about the two sons she had as a teenager, and how that shaped her calling. My vote, however, went to Absalom Jones who, faced within the church with prejudice, did not give up on God. As an Anglican priest who at times is holding on with my fingertips Absalom encourages me to keep on keeping on.

  5. Tough choice. Black men got to vote before white woman. So I think Henriette path more difficult. The path to education for colored women was huge. Henriette helped educate the possibilities.

    1. Getting the right to vote and being able to exercise the right to vote are two different things. Especially in the South. And the fight against voter suppression continues across most of the State Legislatures in the United States to this day. Bills have been introduced in move than half of the States to limit access to voting, and are in danger of passing in more than a few. Fewer voting locations, decreased number of days for early voting, fewer specific reasons for voting absentee, an end to no-excuse absentee voting, and Voter ID laws, all work to restrict access to voting in the name of curtailing the actually very vary rare crime of voter fraud.

      Whilst I miss going to a polling place to vote (I lived in Texas for almost nine years), I'm glad to live again in my native Oregon where we have voted-by-mail for almost a quarter century and as of a few years ago have automatic voter registration for any eligible U.S. Citizen who gets a Driver's License or State-issued ID Card.

      Yesterday was the 56th Anniversary of the 7th of March 1965 when a group of African-Americans attempted to march from Selma, Alabama to the State Capital in Montgomery to demand their civil rights to register and vote be enforced. On the bridgehead opposite Downtown Selma, they were set upon by police in what became known was Bloody Sunday. Today the National Voting Rights Museum & Institute stands on the westside of US Hwy. 80E where that brutal attack on the peaceful protestors happened. Highly recommend a visit to anyone who is ever in the area (post-COVID that is).

  6. I figure that Absalom Jones will go all the way, so naturally I'm voting for an upset in the opening round just to mix things up. Go Henriette! (Though if she does advance, she's up against Marianne Cope in the battle of the Sisters in the Saintly Sixteen.)

  7. This was a tough one I wanted to vote for both of them. You got to remember how rough it was back then for people of color to do what they did.

  8. I solemnly swear that although I have great respect and honor the Supreme Executive Council, they did not exert any undo pressure in my vote for the Episcopal hero, Absalom Jones.

  9. Today is International Women's Day, so a vote for Henriette was an easy one, even though the choices were evenly matched.
    NB - next year make it a match-up between two women on March 8

  10. Oh Absalom my Absalom , would that I could vote for the Episcopalian today, so worthy a saint for racial equality. However, my system favors the women often overlooked while just as worthy. Henriette gets my vote also because she used her advantages to help & educate others.

  11. On this International Woman's Day, Henriette gets my vote. Absalom did great things, but time for the lesser-known to become better-known.

  12. Since I'm serving for a time as Interim Pastor in the greater New Orleans area, my vote has to go with Henriette Delille. Love learning this history.

    Jerry Mansholt
    Hosanna, Mandeville, LA

  13. I am disappointed to find that Henrietta isn't even included in Holy Men,Holy Women. All the more reason to vote for her!

  14. Bad decision here Tim and Scott. You should have known better. You intentionally set it up so that only one African American could be left after the first round. Now you have guaranteed that a lot of us will vote for the one left through the subsequent rounds--regardless of who they are up against-- in protest. A lot of the fun just left Lent Madness.

  15. Both of these Saints deserve respect and admiration. I am voting for Henriette Delille because just like Absalom Jones she used her resources, strength, and courage to resist an insidious and exploitative system. It's a very hard choice, but I'll vote for Sister Henriette in hopes that people who already know about Father Absalom will learn about her as well.

  16. Why are black Americans referred to as African-Americans? That's nonsense. Most black Americans are descended from people who came to North America well before the antecedents of most white Americans. Forget with ethnicity and the skin colour and just be Americans, please. And I don't suppose it has occurred to anybody that to complain about two worthy people being bracketed together just because they are black is racist? Is the implication that neither of them would win if they were paired with white people?

    Both Henriette and Absalom cast a long shadow, and I could have voted for either of them. However, my vote today went to Absalom, in memory of the powerful worship experience I had during Eastertide 1972 at the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Chicago (I can't remember the name of it but it was near the Palmer House Hotel where I was staying). I will never forget the uplifting joy of the worship and the warmth of the welcome I received.

    1. Thank you for your comments that I have been hesitant to post. Can't help but think about Martin Luther King's quote about judging people on the content of their character, not on the color of their skin.

    2. I absolutely agree. I was planning on voting for Absalom because of what I already knew but when reading Henriette's story I changed my mind. This was the most difficult choice so far.

    3. I too voted for Absolom as he was the patron saint of my Cursillo weekend, but I’m disappointed in all the black vs white comments here. I try so hard to see beyond color or race, and this just sets everyone on one side or the other. Delille sounds like an amazing woman and either would be worthy of the win.

    4. I don’t think the implication is that neither would win if they were up against white Saints, but that both of them would win and Ben the competition longer if they had not been paired against each other.

  17. My instinct was to vote for Henriette Delille because she was a woman, but after further thought I swung back to Jones. Jones was born a slave and had to overcome that. Delille was born into relative privilege. However, the both did wonderful work. I do wish Delille was remembered as well as Jones for her legacy.

  18. On International Womens' Day my vote is for Henriette who challenged the inequities of the treatment of women

    1. The Gray Household agrees, Diane! While both saints were worthy of advancing, and may have been our toughest match to date, here’s to Henrietta today!

  19. My first year at Lent Madness. At first I was bothered by the idea of making a game of judging some of God's holiest people. Now I understand the value in thinking about their contributions. I'm OK with having to choose between African-American saints in the first round because it helps to concentrate on the issues of both of their contributions. It is not who is the more worthy; both are worthy. It is a question of their impact on the church and society of today, I think the one chosen today will go on to the Golden Halo. I think it is right to be affected by the Black Lives Matter movement. What started as outrage because Black deaths matter grew to a greater recognition of how Black lives continue to matter, including the lives of these two saints.

  20. Anne Rice’s book The Feast of All Saints is about the free people of color in New Orleans and the (sort of) marital arrangements between people of color and whites with money.

  21. Like others I expected to vote for Absolom today. But I just heard a talk by our church organist, a Black woman from New Orleans whose entire life path benefited from the Catholic education she received that was founded by Henriette. She in turn has worked tirelessly in education and for civil rights. At 80 she is just retiring from her professorship but continues to support the community in countless ways. In honor of Althea my vote goes to Henriette.

  22. As a retired teacher, I had to vote for a woman who established an order that educated orphans and Black children in the Jim Crow South. Even as I voted, I felt that Absalom would win -- and he is certainly deserving. However, Henriette lived out the teachings of Jesus by using all of her privilege to help the poor, the elderly and children.

  23. On international womens' day, it is good to recognize how much this woman accomplished when both gender and race were held against her.

  24. again, two worthies as candidates. I went with Henriette who, as is typical for women, is the less recognized. Absalom will be remembered whether I vote for him or not.

  25. Both did remarkable work in an unjust system. It took courage for Henriette to fight both society and her family to show this system was wrongs. "temporary" marriage, teaching enslaved people to read. She has my vote

  26. Henriette, Absolom, I rejoice,
    To the poor and oppressed, you gave voice,
    But I deeply regret
    That you're in the same set,
    As it poses a difficult choice.

    1. As long as systemic racism remains the huge problem it is in this country -- and in our Church -- we cannot just "forget with ethnicity and the skin colour and just be Americans." I, too, long for the day MLK dreamt of, but we won't get there by ignoring the ongoing power of racism and, as I'm learning from Isabel WIlkerson, Caste, in America. Our Diocese (New Jersey) is just starting work on exploring what reparations for the costs of slavery and the enduring economic injusties suffered by African-Americans means in our corner of the Church. I'm honored to have been asked to serve on this by our Bishop. In two just meetings, my knowledge of what my Black sisters and brothers have endured and continue to endure keeps growing (and this is after 3 rounds of anti-racism training over the last 12 years). We have so, so far to go. Let's keep doing the work, pray as we go, and our honor all our Black saints for their amazing, courageous witness.

  27. This year'S theme for Day and Year of the Woman is "Choose to Challenge". Henriette certainly did.

  28. I think this was the first time I really struggled to make a choice. Both had so much to overcome. I made my final choice for Hariette as I feel as a woman she had more to struggle against.