Pierre Toussaint



Photo of venerable Pierre Toussaint    Toussaint, Venerable Pierre, 1778-1853. Born in Haiti, died in New York City.

    Toussaint was a slave for Berard family in Haiti but left with them for new York City during tje slave revolts of the 1790s.
    Soon after their arrival in New York, the Berards lost their property, in Haiti's revolution, monsieur Berard died and his wife, Marie Elizabeth was reduced to poverty.
    Toussaint trained as a hairdresser, developped a clientele among the richest women of New York and became the sole support of the household.
    Marie Elizabeth, who was devoted to the dignified, discreet Toussaint, gave him his freedom in 1807, and in 1811 he married Juliette Gaston, a fellow Haitian.
    The Toussaints were childless but adopted a niece (her death at the age of fourteen plunged Toussaint into a lengthy depression). They also cared for abandoned boys, taking them into their home, educating them, and finding them jobs.

    Pierre gave away a substantial part of his considerable income to the poor, telling a friend who urged him to retire:
"I have enough for myself, but if I stop working I have not enough for others."
    Toussaint also cared for the sick, sometimes bringing them to his home and repeatedly, during one yellow fever epidemic, crossing the barricades of a deserted steet to visit an abandoned victim.
    For sixty years, he attended daily Mass at six in the morning at St. Peter's on Barclay Street. He frequently qoted the Beatitudes and The Imitation of Christ and delicately provided spiritual guidance to his wealthy clients, urging them to pray and submit their anxieties to God.
    He was " …full in the faith of his church, " a contemporary said, "liberal, enlightened and always acting from the principle that God is our common Father and mankind our brethren. "
    Toussaint never recovered from the death of Juliette in 1851, and died on June 30, two years later. His last words were " God is with me " and then, when asked if he wanted anything, " Nothing on earth. "
    He is buried in a crypt behind the main altar at St. Patrick's cathedral in New York city.

Cynthia Cavnar

From The Saints from A to Z: An Inspirational Dictionary (Servant Publications) by Cynthia Cavnar, copyright Cynthia Cavnar.


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