The Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities announced that the Midlo Center for New Orleans Studies at the University of New Orleans is a recipient of a $2,000 Rebirth Grant to support the collection of oral histories from members of the Sisters of the Holy Family, an African-American congregation of Catholic nuns founded in 1842 in New Orleans by Henrietta Delille. The grant is one of 16 awarded this year.
The oral history project aims to document a period of modern history of great interest to humanities scholars. It will explore the extent to which this order of Catholic nuns, made up of free women of color, maintain the legacy of Delille through their activities of service through the 20th and 21st centuries. In their early years, Sisters of the Holy Family opened America’s first Catholic home for the elderly and cared for the sick and dying during the city’s yellow fever epidemics in the 19th century. In the ensuing decades, the Sisters have continued their service across racial, ethnic, political and social boundaries. Collecting oral histories from the elderly sisters of the order will document the significance of Delille’s efforts begun in the early 19th century and the ways in which religious orders provide a place where women, particularly women of color, could contribute to public welfare when other avenues blocked their participation.
Delille, a free woman of color, is the first native-born African-American whose potential canonization has been opened by the Catholic Church. In addition to the opening of Delille’s potential canonization, the award is timely for several other reasons. From November 19, 2016 through November 19, 2017, Sisters of the Holy Family will be celebrating the 175th anniversary of the order. Material from the oral histories will be available for sharing as the city of New Orleans celebrates the tricentennial of its founding in 2018. Content from the oral history project will be used in the Tripod: New Orleans at 300 series from 89.9 WWNO public radio; on the neworleanshistorical.org website, a web and mobile platform for sharing stories and self-guided tours based on New Orleans history and scholarship; and in the digital encyclopedia and magazine published by the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities.
Rebirth Grants from the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities support projects that provide access to the humanities for citizens in Louisiana. Ranging from $500 to $3,000, the grants support new and continuing scholarly research about Louisiana, public humanities programs that involve audience participation and discussion, documentary photography and radio projects, digital humanities projects including websites and online documentation of Louisiana history and culture, assistance with publication projects and humanities-based educational initiatives.
The Ethel and Herman L. Midlo Center for New Orleans Studies promotes understanding of New Orleans history, politics, culture and public policy issues, particularly civil rights, sponsoring and participating in events that bring together scholars on special topics relating to New Orleans. The center helps direct scholars to research material about New Orleans, serving as an institutional home for scholars who collect and preserve the history of the city, and who circulate their findings in lectures, publications, performances, exhibits and documentaries. The Midlo Center is housed in the University of New Orleans Department of History.