He came to New York City in 1787 with the John Berard family as a slave from Saint-Dominigue. He became a hairdresser and was highly successful among New York’s upper class women. Apart from his skills he listened to and advised his clients, helping them to deepen their own spiritual lives. He used money he earned to help the Bernard widow survive after her husband had died in Saint-Domingue. At the death of Mrs. Bernard, he was freed and took the surname Toussaint after the hero of the Haitian Revolution.
He fell in love with Juliette Noel, and purchased her freedom when she was only fifteen years old. After his marriage, Ven.Pierre and his wife performed many charitable works, opening their home as a orphanage.
|Juliette- Artist Anthony Meucci|
They also organized a credit bureau, an employment agency, and a refuge for priests and destitute travelers. They took in Euphemia, the daughter of his sister Rosalie, who died of tuberculosis, and raised her as their own daughter.
|Euphemia- A. Meucci|
Ven. Pierre was instrumental in raising funds for the first Catholic orphanage and began the city’s first school for black children. He helped to provide funds for the Oblate Sisters of Providence, a religious community of black nuns founded in Baltimore. He also played a vital role in providing resources to erect Old Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in Lower Manhattan. During a Yellow Fever epidemic when many of the city’s political leaders fled the city in search of healthier rural climates, Ven. Pierre cared for the sick and the dying.
He was a successful entrepreneur, who did not hesitate to share the fruits
of his labor with others and attended daily Mass.Even in old age
Euphemia died before her adoptive parents, of TB like her mother. Juliette died in 1851 and Ven. Pierre died two years later on June 30, 1853, at the age of eighty-seven and was buried alongside his wife and daughter,
In recognition of his virtuous life, the late Cardinal Cooke introduced Ven. Pierre’s cause for canonization at the Vatican in 1968. In December 1989, the late Cardinal O’Connor had the remains of Ven. Pierre Toussaint transferred from Lower Manhattan to St. Patrick’s Cathedral in midtown Manhattan where he is buried as the only lay person, alongside the former Cardinal-Archbishops of New York City. On December 17, 1997, Pope John Paul II declared Pierre Toussaint, “Venerable,” thus placing him firmly on the road to becoming North America’s first black saint. Venerable Pierre Toussaint was a man who was proud of his faith, proud of his culture and committed to serving others.