Venerable Pierre Toussaint

Free Layman (1766–1853)
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Pierre Toussaint was born in slavery on a plantation in present-day Haiti. His owners, the Berard family, anticipating the revolutionary uprising that was to come, fled to New York, taking Pierre along with them. They encouraged him to train as an apprentice hairdresser—a skilled and lucrative trade. Meanwhile, Monsieur Berard, who had returned to Haiti, died there, leaving the family penniless. At this point Pierre, though still enslaved, took to supporting the Berard family through his hairdressing. He continued in this service until the death of his mistress, who left instructions that he be freed. 

Pierre married another formerly enslaved Haitian, Juliette, and their home became a center for charitable work. Through his earnings, Pierre secured the freedom of many other slaves, provided for orphans, cared for victims of plague, and even extended aid to French widows impoverished by the liberation of Haiti. He was widely recognized for his piety and devotion to the Church. Among other causes, he raised money for the construction of Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral, where he was buried after his death on June 30, 1853. 

Pierre was declared venerable by Pope John Paul II in 1996. 

“I have never felt I am a slave to any man or woman but I am a servant of the Almighty God who made us all. When one of his children is in need, I am glad to be His slave.” 

—Venerable Pierre Toussaint 

© Liturgical Press.

Robert Ellsberg

Robert Ellsberg is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Orbis Books and the author of several award-winning books, including All Saints: Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time; Blessed Among All Women; and The Saints' Guide to Happiness.

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