On the road to sainthood: leaders of African descent

By Catholic New World
Sunday, February 23, 2014

Editor’s note: In honor of Black History Month, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops posted on its website the following short biographies of American Catholics of African descent who are on the path to canonization (Photos provided by Catholic News Service):

Venerable Pierre Toussaint
Venerable Pierre Toussaint was born a slave in Haiti and was brought from Haiti to New York, where he apprenticed under a popular hairstylist. He eventually became the most sought after hairdresser of high society women. Upon the death of his master, he gained his freedom and was very successful as one of the country’s first black entrepreneurs. He became quite wealthy, but instead of spending lavishly on himself, he supported the church and the poor.

He and his wife sheltered orphans, refugees and other street people in their home. He founded one of New York’s first orphanages and raised money for the city’s first cathedral. Even during yellow fever epidemics, Toussaint would risk his life to help others by nursing the sick and praying with the dying.



Mother Mary Elizabeth Lange
Mother Mary Lange was the foundress and first superior general of the Oblate Sisters of Providence (1829-1832), the first congregation of African-American women religious in the Catholic Church. On July 2, 1829, Elizabeth and three other women professed their vows and became the Oblate Sisters of Providence. This congregation would educate and evangelize African Americans. They educated youth and provided a home for orphans. People freed from slavery were educated and at times admitted into the congregation. They nursed the terminally ill during the cholera epidemic of 1832, sheltered the elderly and even served as domestics at St. Mary’s Seminary.

She was born Elizabeth Lange, a native of the Caribbean, believed to be Cuban-born of Haitian descent. By 1813, Providence directed her to Baltimore, Md., where a large community of French-speaking Catholics from Haiti was established. She died in 1882.



Venerable Henriette Delille
Henriette Delille was born in New Orleans, where she lived all of her life. Her family was part Creole and she was drawn to that heritage. She was determined to help those in need for the love of Jesus and for the sake of the Gospel. Delille was also a person who suffered as she made her way through life, bearing crosses. She taught that sanctity can be attained in following the path of Jesus. It was in this manner that she dealt with her troubles and major obstacles to achieve her goals.

Some of the troubles Delille met were the resistance of the ruling population to the idea of a black religious congregation; the lack of finances to do the work; the taunts and disbelief of people in her mission; the lack of support from both the church and civil authority; and poor health.

In 1842, she founded the Congregation of the Sisters of the Holy Family. Delille died on Nov. 17, 1862. Her obituary states, “Miss Henriette Delille had for long years consecrated herself totally to God without reservation to the instruction of the ignorant and principally to the slave.”


Father Augustus Tolton

Servant of God Father Augustus Tolton is the firstidentified black priest in the United States. Born the son of slaves in Missouri, he studied for the priesthood in Rome because no American seminary would accept him. Sent to the Diocese of Quincy in western Illinois, he later came to Chicago to start a parish for black Catholics.

Throughout his life, Tolton endured racism on every level, even in the church. But through it all, he remained faithful to the Lord, his church and his people. He was 43 years old when he died in 1897.

The Archdiocese of Chicago formally introduced his cause for sainthood in March 2010.




  • father augustus tolton
  • venerable pierre toussaint
  • mother mary elizabeth lange
  • venerable henriette delille

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