Born a slave, now on his way to sainthood

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).

When he died in 1853, Toussaint was buried in old Saint Patrick’s churchyard. Catholic leaders re-interred his body at the uptown St. Patrick’s in 1990.

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.

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5 Responses to “Born a slave, now on his way to sainthood”

  1. petey Says:

    while i sympathize completely with the political comment above, for the record toussaint’s cause is quite a substantial movement within the archdiocese.

  2. wildnewyork Says:

    Thanks for the update. I looked through some older New York Times articles and found quotes from some detractors, but I didn’t mean to make it sound like they made up a big contingent.

  3. Darin Says:

    I think it is a really encouraging story, telling us that it is not how you start in life but how it ends that counts. he clearly had a huge impact in his community.

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