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Venerable Pierre Toussaint: A man, a gift, an inspiration

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This month, we celebrate the lives of those African-Americans who have made an imprint in church history. One such person is Venerable Pierre Toussaint, who taught that docility to the Holy Spirit can give us inspiration in life and enhance the culture.

Three gifts of the Holy Spirit particularly inspired him: the gift of piety helped him see others as family; the gift of fortitude assisted him to love those who hurt him or did not always have his best interest in mind; and the gift of wisdom guided him in seeing the way little things in life could bring him and others closer to God.

Toussaint allowed the gifts of fortitude and piety to flow through him. He was born in Haiti as a slave. In 1787, when he was about 20 years old, Jean Bérard, his plantation boss, sent his young adult son, Toussaint and family, along with two other slaves, to New York City because of the political unrest on the island. There, he was trained as a hairdresser and in housekeeping. In 1789, Toussaint’s boss went back to Haiti. Before he left, he asked Toussaint to promise to look after the house for him. Toussaint promised he would. When Bérard died, Toussaint had to keep his word. This took fortitude.

It would take courage to fulfill the responsibility of caring for an entire household; be counter-cultural and look after his young boss’ widow since the culture of the time viewed African-Americans as less than equal; and to love those who deemed him unlovable.

Toussaint took up the challenge although it was not easy. He did this because they were not just fellow slaves or workers, not even just his boss’ wife; to Toussaint, they were family. He was able to love courageously because he allowed the gifts of piety and fortitude to become the lens through which he saw life. If only we could emulate this by seeing everyone as a child of our heavenly Father, hence our brothers and sisters in the Lord. This would allow us to be brave in the face of trials and disappointments, and even caring for those who hurt us because like Him, we would be motivated by love.

This shows Toussaint’s docility to the gift of wisdom in seeing God in the everyday ordinary things. He would treat all clients, both free and slave, with dignity as Christ would treat them. He saw everyone’s children as family, so he and his wife opened their home to orphans. Seeing God’s hand even in suffering, he adopted his niece after his sister’s death, and helped those who were abandoned by Yellow Fever.

In short, Toussaint inspired the New York City community to be a better place by seeing God in every person and in every situation, both in good times and in bad.

We would do well to follow Toussaint’s example by living out our heavenly call in the here and now. We would embody the gift of piety by seeing God as a Father who loves all of His children and so value everyone as brothers and sisters. We would be brave enough to love unconditionally, even when it is not easy or convenient, through the gift of fortitude.

Finally, we would be motivated to hear God’s beloved word saying “I love you” at all times, even in the ordinary things of life like conversations, caring for the sick and doing our part through the gift of wisdom.

Let us celebrate Toussaint’s example by allowing the Holy Spirit to give us the gift of His divine love, which has the power to shape and transform history.

Deacon Anthony serves at St. Timothy Church in Chantilly.


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017