Pierre Toussaint died in New York City June 30, 1853. Today the remains of Venerable Pierre Toussaint, who came to the United States as a Haitian slave, rest under the altar of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. He is venerated by the Catholic Church and his cause for sainthood is underway.
Saints are important in the Catholic Church. They witness to the presence of the Holy Spirit in their time and place, for one thing, but they also have a predictive role. They point out the direction the church and the world should take now under the guidance of the Spirit. For this reason we pay attention to them. They bless their own days and our days too.
What does Pierre Toussaint tell us about our American church today? He brings important issues, racism and systemic racism, before us. When he came to this country in 1787 about half of the households in New York City had slaves. Slaves built much of the city’s early structures. Toussaint only received his freedom in 1807.
After slavery was completely abolished in 1841 in New York, black people and people of color faced systemic discrimination in housing, education, jobs and health care. They still face these issues today.
Toussaint was an example of the goodness and gifts of his race to the people of his time. He changed the way they thought; he gained their appreciation and challenged them to be just. Saints bless their own times and times to come.
So listen for 12 minutes to his story. May he bless us.