The Vatican took another step this week toward declaring a Haitian-born slave the United States’ first black saint.
The Vatican body which studies candidates for sainthood issued a decree recognizing that Pierre Toussaint “lived in an outstanding way, better than we do,” said the Rev. Paolo Molinari, who is promoting Toussaint’s sainthood.
Pope John Paul II attended a ceremony at the Vatican on Tuesday to present the decree declaring the “heroic virtues” of Toussaint. Decrees certifying martyrdom or miracles were presented for other candidates.
“The decree means “Pierre Toussaint, more than any of us, lived … in an outstanding Christian way,” Molinari said Wednesday.
The process of declaring official sainthood is long and complex. Candidates must first be beatified, and beatification requires a certified miracle. Molinari said several possible miracles attributed to Toussaint’s intercession are under study.
Toussaint worked for a well-educated, religious Catholic family in Haiti that brought him to New York when they fled an anti-slavery uprising.
Living with the family as a domestic servant, Toussaint learned to read and write. He also worked as a barber and was allowed to keep some earnings. After his owner died, the widow became impoverished and Toussaint supported her. The widow freed him before she died in 1807.
Toussaint then married a woman from Haiti. Until his death in New York City in 1853, he worked with orphans, the poor and the sick, both black and white, Molinari said.