Born a slave in Haiti, Toussaint came to New York as property of a French Haitian family, who later freed him in 1807. Establishing himself as a successful hairdresser, Toussaint earned a sizable salary, which he put to use for the good of others, beginning with the purchase of his sister’s freedom as well as that of his future wife, Juliette. Together the Toussaints spent their lives in service to the poor and needy. When urged to retire and enjoy his remaining years, Toussaint is quoted as saying, “I have enough for myself, but if I stop working, I have not enough for others.”
Toussaint’s great charity and works of mercy were fueled by an abiding faith. A daily Mass attendee for more than 60 years, Toussaint lived as he worshipped. Not embittered by the hardships he endured because of his race and his Catholic faith, the model layman only continued to give of himself for others. Toussaint and his wife adopted his niece, took in orphans and funded orphanages, operated a credit bureau, established hostels for priests and refugees, and generously supported the Church and other institutions. Toussaint attended to the sick and suffering, too, even strangers whom he helped nurse to health.
Toussaint died, two years after his wife, on June 30, 1854. In 1990, his remains were moved to a niche in the Bishop’s Crypt at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City — a rather poetic postscript to the life of a man whose race once prohibited him from entering the city’s Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral. He was declared venerable in 1996.
Michael R. Heinlein is editor of Simply Catholic. Follow him on Twitter @HeinleinMichael.