Pierre Toussaint. When he died he left no relatives, yet crowds of mourners attended his funeral mass at St. Peter’s on Barclay Street. How did this humble man, born a slave in St. Dominique (now Haiti) in 1766, touch the hearts of so many people?
Pierre Toussaint was brought to New York as a young man and learned the trade of hairdressing. With the money he earned, he purchased the freedom of others instead of his own. When the Bérards, his master’s family, fell on hard times, Pierre supported them from his own earnings. His skill as a hairdresser made him popular with New York’s elite families, and he used this network of friends to raise funds for building St. Patrick’s Cathedral. For many years he took in homeless boys and taught them a trade. Throughout his life, his only wish was to be an apostle of goodness to everyone he met.
In the sorrow and suffering that entered his life, Pierre turned to God for help and strength, attending daily Mass for sixty years. Almost two centuries before Vatican II, Pierre Toussaint lived its message: that holiness is meant for everyone.
In December 1996, Pope John Paul II declared him “Venerable.”