Editor's note: Per communications from the organizers early Friday morning, this event has been canceled due to scheduling conflicts.
On Friday, the Archdiocese of New York will join various civic groups at the Bowling Green in Manhattan to honor the feast of Venerable Pierre Toussaint, one of the seven African Americans on the path to sainthood in the Catholic Church.
The event—a dual-nation flag-raising ceremony—was announced this week by the archdiocese, roughly a month after a similar event at the same locale for Haitian Flag Day. This week’s is being jointly organized with the Pierre Toussaint Guild, Life of Hope Inc., the NYC St. Patrick’s Day Parade Foundation, and the Catholic Finance Association.
Also co-sponsoring the event is the Bowling Green Association, the patrons of the civic plaza where it will take place, near Battery Park in the Financial District.
“Come and celebrate the life of Pierre Toussaint, a Haitian-born American hero awaiting Sainthood and buried in New York’s own St. Patrick’s Cathedral,” the announcement reads.
“Join the raising of the Haitian and American flags together high over Lower Manhattan at the Flag Poles at Bowling Green.”
The flag-raising coincides with the 170th anniversary of Toussaint’s death, and honors his many years of service to the Archdiocese of New York as a patron and faithful Catholic. Born into slavery in Haiti in 1766, the “holy hairdresser” later gained fame for his prowess in the salon, where he made high-powered friends before eventually being freed due to his master’s death in 1807.
Toussaint later became a benefactor of various philanthropic causes with his wife Juliette, including the construction of Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Lower Manhattan. For his unparalleled service to the impoverished people of the city, he is honored today by Catholic Charities New York as its de facto founder—as noted prominently in their headquarters.
Despite facing racism in New York’s Catholic scene throughout his life, Toussaint remained for the better part of seven decades a daily parishioner at nearby St. Peter’s Catholic Church, less than a mile from where he will be honored on Friday afternoon. The Church will hold a Mass in his honor the same day at 12:30pm ET.
Toussaint died in 1853 at the age of 87, and it would be nearly a century before his fame led to a cause for canonization in the Catholic Church—only the second in history for an African American. His body was exhumed and reinterred at the current St. Patrick’s Cathedral in 1989, on the orders of Cardinal John O’Connor; as of 2023, he is the first and only layman to receive such an honor.
Long venerated as a sign of perseverance and overcoming for both Haitians and Black Catholics broadly, Toussaint has become the namesake of various public and private institutions around the world, including multiple charitable centers in the United States. Two streets in New York City have also been renamed in his honor, next to his home parish in Manhattan and at an intersection in Brooklyn’s Little Haiti neighborhood.
His sainthood guild, connected to the Office of Black Catholic Ministries for the Archdiocese of New York, also operates the Pierre Toussaint Scholars program, which awards funds to graduating high school seniors to attend college. The annual gala supporting their work also occasions the bestowal of the Pierre Toussaint Medallion, which has gone to such figures as Toni Morrison, Dominique Dawes, Mary Lou Williams, and Robert F. Smith.
Honored as “Venerable” since 1996, Toussaint is one step away from beatification, which would require Vatican approval of a miracle brought about by his intercession—for which Catholics around the world have prayed for decades.
Should that step come to fruition, another miracle would open the path for the pope to declare him a saint. No African American has yet been beatified or canonized in the Catholic Church, meaning that Toussaint could someday become the first.
Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger.