The Former Slave Proposed as an American Saint
Only a few decades ago, black Catholics in some parts of America had to stand at the end of the line for Holy Communion — a travesty of the sacrament meant to make us all one in Christ. Jesus Himself provides the rebuke: “The first shall be last, and the last shall be first.”
So it is fitting that on the short list of Americans who have been proposed for sainthood is a black New Yorker, Pierre Toussaint (1766-1853), a freed slave who, because of his race, was forbidden to ride the city's omnibuses. Born in the French colony that is now Haiti, he was taken to New York at age 22 by his prosperous masters, Jean Jacques and Marie Elisabeth Bérard, who feared racial unrest on the island. (Indeed, the tension would soon erupt in a bloody slave revolt that wiped out most of the island’s white population.) The Bérard family had raised the young man in their own home, appointing their daughter, Aurora, as his godmother. Since he served in their household, they taught him to read and write.
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