No Cross, No Crown

No Cross, No Crown

Black Nuns in Nineteenth-Century New Orleans
Sister Mary Bernar Deggs, edited by Virginia Meacham Gould and Charles E. Nolan
Distribution: Global
Publication date: 08/05/2002
Format: Paperback 30 b&w photos
ISBN: 978-0-253-21543-7
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Nineteenth-century New Orleans was a diverse city. The French-speaking Catholic Creoles, whether black, white, or racially mixed—so different from the city's English-speaking residents—inspired intense curiosity and speculation. But none of the city's inhabitants evoked as much wonder as did the Sisters of the Holy Family, whose mission was to evangelize slaves and free people of color and to care for the poor, sick, and elderly.

These women, whose community still thrives, are portrayed in an account written between 1896 and 1898 by one of their sisters, Mary Bernard Deggs, who shortly before her death made it her mission to record the remarkable historical journey the women had taken to serve those of their race. Although Deggs did not officially join the Sisters of the Holy Family until 1873, she was a student at the sisters' early school on Bayou Road and thus would have known, as a child, Henriette Delille, the founder and first mother superior of the Sisters of the Holy Family, and the other
women who joined her.

This account captures, in a most graphic way, the founding of the
Sisters of the Holy Family in New Orleans in 1842 and the difficult years that followed. It was not until 1852 that the foundresses were able to
take their first official vows and exchange their blue percale gowns for
black ones (and it was 1873 before they were permitted to wear a formal
religious habit). Shortly before Delille's death in 1862, Union forces
seized the city, and Delille's successor, Juliette Gaudin, faced dire
economic circumstances. The war and postwar years economically devastated
New Orleans and its population. Freed slaves poured into the city,
unintentionally adding themselves to the already overwhelming mission of
the sisters. Those were the poorest and most uncertain years the sisters
were to face.

We know very little about Sister Mary Bernard Deggs herself, but her history of the early years of the Sisters of

Author Bio

Virginia Meacham Gould teaches history at Our Lady of the Holy Cross College in New Orleans and is author of Chained to the Rock of Adversity.

Charles E. Nolan is Archivist of the Archdiocese of New Orleans.


“" . . . an important contribution to the history of black Catholics in the United States. . . . unparalleled in women's writings and is singularly important for what it tells us about the self-empowerment of society's least empowered...women of African descent." — America The Sisters of the Holy Family is a religious community of women of African and Creole descent in New Orleans, founded in 1842 by Henriette Delille. While shielded by their stark white bonnets and flowing black skirts, they evangelized slaves and free people of color and cared for the poor, the sick, and the elderly. This is their remarkable story, written between 1894 and 1896 by one of their own, Sister Mary Bernard Deggs.”

“This intriguing book collects five biographies of women who became Mothers Superior in the early years of the development of the New Orleans' Sisters of the Holy Family, Louisiana's first religious community of women of African descent. Written by Sister Mary Bernard Deggs more than a century ago, the historical account covers its founding and early development by five very remarkable women. The title of the book comes from an entry in Deggs's journal in which she indicated that, though the early years were very difficult, the Sisters were blessed with many graces and also many crosses which were said to be the best of all graces, as no cross, no crown. In spite of the complexities of Deggs's journal, editors Gould (Our Lady of the Holy Cross, New Orleans) and Nolan (Archdiocese of New Orleans) managed to maintain its original tone, replete with admiration and concern for the Mothers Superior. No Cross, No Crown includes both a detailed preface that offers a biography of the author and an extensive introduction that provides a historical background to the founding of the religious community and the political context in which it took root. General readers; undergraduates, including community college students; professionals and practitioners.”
 — M. F. Nefsky, University of Lethbridge , 2002apr CHOICE

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Table of Contents


Part I. Mothers Henriette Delille and Juliette Gaudin

Part II. Mother Josephine Charles

Part III. Mother Marie Magdalene Alpaugh

Part IV. Mother Marie Cecilia Capla

Part V. Mother Mary Austin Jones


illustrations follow page XXX