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#867: Saint Businessman... (fwd)


Saint Businessman _______Pierre Toussaint  By Robert A. Sirico 

WHAT DO YOU THINK OF WHEN YOU PICTURE a "saint"? Someone like Francis of
Assisi, perhaps, who gave up his worldly goods. Or a Mother Teresa,
making her life's  work the rescue of India's outcasts. One type that
does not come to mind is an   entrepreneur. But think about this for a 
moment: Is there any law that says a saint cannot hold a regular job,
excel in  marketable skills or build a business?  We forget that the
apostles in the New  Testament were fishermen first, who learned about
hard work and diligence in a  market setting. We forget, too, that for 
many centuries, and even today, monks  have had to market goods like
wool and   honey to the outside world to support their   lives of
prayer, reflection and  contemplation.  Thus I see nothing strange in
hoping for the eventual canonization of a New York hairdresser, a man
named Pierre Toussaint.  He overcame incredible odds to become one of
America's first rich, black professionals. In his life we see
capitalistic achievement and personal piety coexisting. Pope
John         Paul II has already declared Toussaint  "venerable," the
first step in the process of  recognizing a saint.  Born into slavery on
a sugar plantation in  Haiti in 1766, Toussaint was brought to New  
York by the son of his owner in 1787 to  escape the bloodshed of the
Haitian slave  revolts. Upon arrival, he began an   apprenticeship with
a hairdresser. Toussaint  was so good at his work that clients were soon
asking for his services.  Toussaint attended daily Mass, and was  known
for his piety, honesty, charity and  integrity. People said he radiated
a serene      and joyful faith. After his owner died, Toussaint earned
enough money to provide   the widow, Marie Bérard, with the New York 
socialite's lifestyle to which she had become accustomed. Toussaint paid
the bills and issued the invitations to her parties. Freed when Mrs.
Bérard died, Toussaint became a wealthy benefactor to Catholic charities
in        New York. He and Juliette Noel, the woman he married when he
was 45, took in  homeless immigrants and other unfortunate people to
live with them. 
 There's truth to the   complaint I hear from   businessmen that the
 practical virtues aren't celebrated enough in contemporary religious
 Toussaint paid for the reconstruction of St. Peter's church after it
burned and helped raise money for the construction of the old       St.
Patrick's Cathedral in lower Manhattan. None of this protected him from
being turned away from the cathedral one day in 1836 by an usher who
didn't like the color of his face. A scandalized trustee of the      
church heard about the insult, rebuked the usher and apologized to
Toussaint. When  Toussaint died on June 30, 1853, the New  York press
devoted numerous respectful  obituaries to him. John Cardinal O'Connor,
Archbishop of New  York, who is a backer of Toussaint's  canonization,
had his remains moved from   the cemetery of old St. Patrick's into
thecrypt below the main altar of the Fifth  Avenue St. Patrick's. No
layman has ever been similarly honored. 
What a magnificent example Pierre Toussaint is for us all. And yet he is
not usually listed in the pantheon of great  Americans. Is it because he
doesn't fit into   either stereotype? Neither the saint in  sackcloth
nor the profiteering businessman?
 I don't know the answer, but there's truth   to the complaint I hear
from businessmen  that the practical virtues are not celebrated enough
in contemporary religious culture.
  Have you heard it said that "money is the root of all evil"? This is a
misquote. ITimothy 6: 10 says something very   different: "The love of
money is the root of  all evil." Money is not evil; it feeds and   
clothes us and it makes possible charity for  the poor. It is the
worshiping of money that  is evil. 
  Norman Darden is a black New Yorkntrepreneur of humble beginnings who
has built a business of floor care services. Darden is writing a
biography of Toussaint. He says Toussaint's example inspired him to 
persevere in both his faith and his business. That, in a nutshell, is
why I am hoping for  the canonization of Pierre Toussaint. It      
would remind people that capitalism and   Christianity are not
incompatible. Venerable Pierre Toussaint is dramatic proof that doing  
business and doing good are not at all mutually exclusive.