Henriette was a free woman of color, born in New Orleans, Louisiana, on March 11, 1813. In the French tradition, Henriette was brought up Catholic and was well educated. As her mother prepared her to enter into a relationship with a rich man, Henriette resisted. Instead, she began teaching at the local Catholic school. Her vocation, educating both free and enslaved Black children (which was illegal at the time) and caring for the elderly who were poor or sick, began to take shape.
After her mother suffered a nervous breakdown and was declared incompetent, Henriette took over the care of her mother. With the remaining assets that were handed down to her, she founded a community with seven other Creole women and one French woman. They opened their home to a few elderly women and thus began the first nursing home in the United States of America. In 1837, this new religious community of women was formally recognized by the Holy See.
Henriette died on November 16, 1862. Her life was marked as one devoted to service, living simply, and hard work. Her community, the Sisters of the Holy Family, has survived, and today operates free schools for children, nursing homes, and retirement homes.
(Image is in the public domain)