From Slave to Saint: Pierre Toussaint

At a time when the slavery question was on the rise, biographer Arthur Jones notes that Pierre "never was willing to talk on the subject." At this time, many Catholics avoided the antislavery movement because many abolitionists were anti-Catholic. On the rare occasion he discussed the subject, he said: "They have never seen blood flow as I have."

On June 30, 1853, Pierre died at age 87. At his funeral Mass at St. Peter's, many of the attendees, a biographer writes, had "eyes glistening with emotion." In his sermon, Father William Quinn noted:

Though no relative is left to mourn for him, yet many present feel that they have lost one who always had wise counsel for the rich and words of encouragement for the poor. And all are grateful for having known him . . . There were very few left among the clergy superior to him in devotion and zeal for the Church and for the glory of God; among laymen, none.

In 1991, Cardinal John J. O'Connor introduced Pierre's canonization cause, and he was reinterred at the new St. Patrick's Cathedral (the only layperson so honored). During his visit to St. Patrick's, Pope John Paul II declared Pierre Venerable. Cardinal O'Connor himself considered it "a great privilege" to be buried alongside Pierre. From slave to entrepreneur, a benefactor and friend of the poor, O'Connor added: "If ever a man was truly free, it was Pierre Toussaint."

10/24/2011 4:00:00 AM
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  • Pat McNamara
    About Pat McNamara
    Dr. Pat McNamara is a published historian. He blogs about American Catholic History at McNamara's Blog.
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