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Tribute to Venerable Haitian Pierre Toussaint

Workers unearth the remains of former slave, Pierre Toussant, who is the first African American proposed for sainthood, Nov. 1, 1990. Toussaint is considered the founder of Catholic Charities because he helped the needy for 66 years before formal services for aid existed.
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In light of President Donald J. Trump’s alleged derogatory remarks about Haiti and African countries, a retired Vincentian-born public school teacher in Brooklyn says she was compelled to pay tribute to the Venerable Haitian Pierre Toussaint, who emerged from slavery to sainthood.

“Since the President of the United States referred to several countries as ‘s…hole countries,’ this writer has felt compelled to tell the story of someone who was brought here from one of those countries, and who made significant contributions in New York City,” writes Dr. Ann Sutherland, who retired from teaching in New York City public schools last October, in her contribution to the 36th anniversary journal of the Brooklyn-based St. Vincent and the Grenadines Ex-Teachers Association of New York.

Dr. Sutherland writes that the life of Toussaint “transcended from slavery to entreprene­ur,” adding that “throughout all, he performed great acts of charity, helping to enhance the lives of those who were in need.”

According to, Toussaint was born a slave in 1766 in the French colony of Saint Domingue, which is modern-day Haiti.

His great-grandmother, Tonette, was born in Africa and sold into slavery in the Caribbean, said.

It said Toussaint worked as a house slave inside a plantation owned by Jean Berard.

“He was educated by the family’s tutors, which was very unusual for the time,” said. “When political unrest came to the island, his master sent his wife to New York for safekeeping in 1787. Pierre and his sister, Rosalie, were sent along.

“There, in New York, Pierre was allowed to train as a hairdresser,” it added.

After his master died, Dr. Sutherland said Toussaint “made the commitment to take care of himself, his master’s widow and the other house slaves.”

His master’s widow died in 1807; and, shortly after her death, her second husband freed him to satisfy a promise made to her prior to her death, Sutherland writes.

She says Pierre then purchased the freedom of his sister, Rosalie; and, in 1811, that of a young lady, Juliette Noel, who was 20 years his junior and who later became his wife.

The couple also adopted Euphemia, the daughter of his sister Rosalie who had died of tuberculosis, Dr. Sutherland says.

She says Toussaint and his wife devoted their lives to helping the poor and needy in New York City, stating that “they worked hand-in-hand aiding refugees in finding jobs and raising funds for several orphanages.”

Dr. Sutherland says they also donated their own money to the Orphan Asylum in New York City and organized a credit bureau.”

Dr. Sutherland says Toussaint was well known to immigrants, especially those from Haiti, who sought his help when they arrived in New York City.

She says the couple took people who were suffering from yellow fever into their home and nursed them.

“They also crossed barricades to help isolated patients suffering from an outbreak of cholera,” Dr. Sutherland says.

In addition, she said Toussaint was “a staunch member of the Catholic Church.

“He was one of the benefactors of the multi-national Catholic school in New York City called St. Vincent de Paul,” says Dr. Sutherland, an active member of Our Lady of Miracles Catholic Church in Brooklyn, where she worships and serves as a catechist.

A catechist in the Catholic Church teaches religious instruction to children (Sunday School teacher), says Dr. Sutherland, who was recently named regional director of the Pro Sanctity Movement, a Roman Catholic movement, which encompasses Brooklyn and Queens.

She says Toussaint helped to raise funds needed to build the Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Mulberry Street in Manhattan.

Toussaint died June 30, 1853 at 87, two years after the death of his wife, Juliette.

Years after Toussaint’s death, Dr. Sutherland says different groups and individuals started to advocate for consideration for sainthood for Toussaint.

“They were met with almost no resistance; and, in 1991, Cardinal John O’Connor sent the necessary documents to the Vatican,” she writes. “The cardinal also ordered his body exhumed, examined and reinterred in the present location of St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue, giving him the honor of being the first layman to be buried in the crypt below the main altar.

“This is a man who, throughout his lifetime, stood out as a model of virtues, who performed unselfish and extraordinary acts,” she adds. “The long process continues to the final declaration of sainthood for Pierre Toussaint.”

In 1996, Dr. Sutherland says Toussaint was named venerable, the second step in the process by Pope John Paul II.

“To those who are familiar with his great deeds, Pierre Toussaint continues to be a model of service for God and man,” Dr. Sutherland writes.

Updated 11:01 am, February 6, 2019
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Reader feedback

Ko from None says:
Thank you, I appreciate the history and showing that to the world. America coats its ——hole by showing mistreatment of certain people and showing others to thrive.
Feb. 6, 7:53 pm
Leibnitz Berthaud from Canada says:
I invite you to pray for Pierre Toussaint to be proclaimed saint. Don't hesitate to pray him and ask a favor by his powerful intercession !
Feb. 6, 8:57 pm
Jocelyne Millien from Far Rockaway says:
I wish Pierre Toussaint would pray for me, because I also have money problems too. I am living in a group home. My family is scattered all over the place. I don't know where they are. One sister is in a nursing home sick. I wish I can be helped right now just like he did to many others before me. Please, help Pierre Toussaint to pray for me.
Feb. 6, 11:49 pm
Dudley Millien from Heaven says:
Hey Jocelyne, I pray you RISE from this trail triumpant in the name of peace, in the name of mercy,and in the name of love. Don't loose yourself to that world become the victor and not the victim. Stay proactive and not reactive. You can do it; you have the spirit of God in you!!! God Bless you
Feb. 7, 8:33 am
Nadege Richardson from Chestnut Ridge NY says:
Thank you for sharing and showing how strong we are even through adversity. Bitterness only brings out Ugliness. Love only brings out GREATNESS! Love is it! May God Bless Our World and the Bitterness in it for the greater good of LOVE!!
Feb. 7, 10:15 am
Woodly Bonhomme from Haitian community in Miami says:
I thank you a lot for putting to light history that are hidden even from us Haitian people. Thank you
Feb. 7, 12:37 pm
Immacula Rateau from Randolph, USA says:
Venerable Pierre Toussaint,please pray for HAITI and Haitians. This country needs some men who seek, Peace of God,Light of the Spirit of God and Love of neighbor, like you. Ask God to bless those who want that anf to confuse the others who seek only power to bleed and kill our nation...πŸ™πŸ™πŸ™πŸ’
Feb. 7, 1:05 pm
Yuma Mettelus from FL says:
This is very inspiring to honor Pierre Toussaint which represents such a major pioneer about charity work. I am not surprised at all due to the fact Haitian nation are so giving to each other even none Haitian. Our money is not belong to us but our family and friends and difficult times Haitian support each other.
Feb. 7, 1:13 pm
Saphira A. from Colorado says:
Thank you for showing respect to a selfless man. You not only honor him, you also honor all Haitians. God bless you
Feb. 7, 4:14 pm
Altagracia Winnie Jean Jaques gedeon from Gaithersburg Maryland says:
I was born I Haiti in 1971 I moved to America and I got married and I have 2 children good bless you hatian worldπŸ’•πŸ’•πŸ’•πŸ’•πŸ’•πŸ’•πŸ’•πŸ’•πŸ’•πŸ’•
Feb. 7, 5:23 pm
Jean says:
Can you imagine what Pierre Toussaint's life would have been like if he had not been sent to New York in the United States and given freedom in 1807 by his master's widower? He may have died in the war and not been remembered, he may have never gotten freedom in Haiti, he would not have been able to study as a hair dresser, he would not have been able to free his sister, he would not have met his wife, he would not have helped others and may have not been remembered.
Feb. 8, 11:20 pm

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