Black History Month is more than honoring those who walked before us. It is honoring the lessons they gave us as well.
“I have never felt I am a slave to any man or woman but I am a servant of Almighty God who made us all. When one of his children is in need, I am glad to be His slave.”- Pierre Toussaint
Born in modern-day Haiti and brought to New York City as a slave, Pierre died a free man, a renowned hairdresser, and one of New York City’s most well-known Catholics.
As a native New Yorker and a Roman Catholic I am particularly proud of him.
Plantation owner Pierre Bérard made Toussaint a house slave and allowed his grandmother to teach her grandson how to read and write. In his early 20s, Pierre, his younger sister, his aunt, and two other house slaves accompanied their master’s son to New York City because of political unrest at home. Apprenticed to a local hairdresser, Pierre learned the trade quickly and eventually worked very successfully in the homes of rich women in New York City.
When his master died, Pierre was determined to support himself, his master’s widow, and the other house slaves. He was freed shortly before the widow’s death in 1807.
Four years later, he married Marie Rose Juliette, whose freedom he had purchased. They later adopted Euphémie, his orphaned niece. Both preceded Pierre in death. He attended daily Mass at St. Peter’s Church on Barclay Street, the same parish that Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton had attended.
Pierre donated to various charities, generously assisting blacks and whites in need. He and his wife opened their home to orphans and educated them. The couple also nursed abandoned people who were suffering from yellow fever. Urged to retire and enjoy the wealth he had accumulated, Pierre responded, “I have enough for myself, but if I stop working I have not enough for others.”
Pierre originally was buried outside St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral, where he was once refused entrance because of his race. His sanctity and the popular devotion to him caused his body to be moved to the present location of St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue.
Pierre’s skill and possession of wiles is one that is admirable.
One of the necessary keys to success lies in a person’s personal character. A senses of adaptability, flexibility, good oral and written communication skills, and the ability to deliver a quality product skills), stressed the primary need for such integrity of character that he or she is honest, trustworthy, and truthful in all dealings. That was him in all his dealings. Those are lessons we can all profit from. Above all, a person should willingly and gladly be submissive to the will of God. The result will be a desire to share that key to success with others. He lived a life exemplary in that.
Pierre Toussaint was declared Venerable in 1996.