Equity and Inclusion


In response to the proposal from the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) that congregations focus on the dismantling of racism, the Adrian Dominican Sisters begin by identifying resources that can assist us in raising our consciousness of white privilege and white supremacy, both personally and systematically.

Our Toward Communion: Undoing Racism and Embracing Diversity Committee and our Justice Promoters are collaborating on a Black Catholic Project that begins on January 18, 2021, Martin Luther King Jr. Day. This project seeks to provide information on prominent Blacks and Black Catholics who have made significant contributions to the church and society, along with reflection questions and a prayer.

 

Equity and Inclusion Project

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Venerable Pierre Toussaint (1766-1853)

Venerable Pierre Toussaint

Venerable Pierre Toussaint

Pierre Toussaint was born into slavery in Haiti on a plantation owned by Pierre Berard. He spent his early life working as a house boy, and his grandmother taught him to read and write. When Pierre Toussaint was 20 years old, he, his sister, his aunt, and two other enslaved persons accompanied the Berard family when they escaped the Haitian Revolution to New York City. 

Once in New York City, both Pierre Toussaint and Pierre Berard apprenticed with a leading hairdresser. Pierre Toussaint worked in the homes of rich women and brought creative skills with the complicated art of coiffure and became a wealthy man and was admired by the elite in New York City. During their appointments Pierre Toussaint would speak to his clients of Christianity, was a good listener, and gave excellent advice. 

When Pierre Berard died, he was destitute and his plantation in Haiti was in ruins. Although Pierre Toussaint could have purchased his freedom at that time, he chose to remain enslaved and discretely finance widow Berard: by day he would coiffeur women’s hair and by night he would care for his invalid mistress. He paid all her expenses and supported her until she died. 

After being enslaved for 41 years, Pierre Toussaint was freed by his mistress shortly before her death. He married Mary Rose Juliette Noel, whose freedom he purchased. Pierre and Mary Rose purchased a home where they sheltered orphans and helped them and others in getting an education and learning a trade. In addition, the couple aided refugees in finding jobs and assisted victims of yellow fever epidemic. Their charity was also extended to Haitian immigrants, helping them to become established in the U.S. with jobs, housing, and education.

Urged to retire and enjoy the wealth he had accumulated, Pierre responded, “I’d have enough for myself but if I stopped working, I’d not have enough for others.”

Pierre Toussaint 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 Toussaint was declared Venerable in 1996.

 

Resources

Saints Resource article on Pierre Toussaint.

American Catholic History series (by Starquest Media) podcast on Pierre Toussaint.

Canonizing a Slave: Saint or Uncle Tom?” New York Times article, 1992

 

Reflection Questions


1) What was your reaction to the fact that a slave before the Civil War could be successful, wealthy, and sought after?

2) Of Pierre’s gracious philanthropy, what touched you most?

 

Prayer

Lord God, source of love and compassion, we praise and honor You for the virtuous and charitable life of our brother in Christ, Venerable Pierre Toussaint. 

Inspired by the example of our Lord Jesus, Pierre worshipped You with love and served Your people with generosity. He attended Mass daily and responded to the practical and spiritual needs of friends and strangers, of the rich and the poor, the sick and the homeless of the 19th century New York.

If it is your will, let the name of Venerable Pierre Toussaint be officially raised to the rank of Saint, so that the world may know this Haitian New Yorker who refused to hate or be selfish, but instead lived to the full commandments of heaven and the divine law of love – love for God and for neighbor.

By following his example and asking for his prayer, may we, too, be counted among the blessed in heaven.
 
We ask for this through Christ our Lord. 

Amen.

 

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People of African Descent on the Path to Sainthood

 

U.S. Black Catholic History Links

Black Catholic History page by Seattle University

Timeline from the National Black Catholic Congress

Sister Jamie T. Phelps, OP, discusses Black Catholics in America with Dr. Paul Lakeland for Fairfield University's "Voices of Others" video series

News report on one of the oldest Black Catholic parishes in the U.S., St. Elizabeth Catholic Church (formerly St. Monica) in Chicago, Illinois

 

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