Only two city residents, Elizabeth Ann Seton and Francis Xavier Cabrini, have been canonized by the Catholic church. Next may be Pierre Toussaint.
Born a slave in Haiti in 1766, Toussaint came to New York with his master’s family, the Berards, during the Haitian slave revolts of the 1780s.
After the Berard fortune dwindled, he became a society hairdresser, supporting the family until Mrs. Berard freed him on her deathbed.
Deeply devout, Toussaint and his wife spent their lives building orphanages, nursing cholera patients, and raising funds for the original St. Patrick’s Cathedral, on Mott and Prince Streets (below, in 1859).
Touissant has made it to the second step on the path to sainthood: He’s been deemed Venerable.
Still, he’s a controversial choice. Reportedly some Catholics take him to task for staying with his master’s family rather than joining the slave revolt that forced the Berards to flee Haiti in the first place.
Tags: 19th century New York City, American saints, Haitian New Yorkers, old St. Patrick's Cathedral, Pierre Toussaint, prominent black New Yorkers of the 19th century, slaves in old New York, Toussaint sainthood