This Hairdresser Slave is on the Way to Sainthood*

Pierre Toussaint                                        en wikipedia.org

By Larry Peterson

There have been many great Black Americans who have stood tall to help make America the proud nation it is today. Rev.Martin Luther King Jr., Thurgood Marshall, Frederick Douglas, Rosa Parks, Clarence Thomas, Colin Powell, Condoleeza Rice and the list goes on.

Included, among those are also Black Catholic Americans *(Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas is Catholic).  The names of these  people are not so recognizable as the aforementioned.  Such people as Father Augustus Tolton, born a slave he was the first African American to be ordained a priest in the United States.

Others include: Henriette Delille, the founder of The Sisters of the Holy Family; Mother Mathilda Beasley who became known as “The Idol of the Poor”; Daniel Rudd, a black Catholic journalist who founded the National Black Catholic Congress and  Elizabeth Mary Lang. Born a slave she became the co-foundress of the Oblate Sisters of Providence.

Another person who is part of the legacy that Black Catholic Americans left for all of us is Venerable Pierre Touissant.

Pierre was born a slave in Haiti in 1766. He was fortunate because his owner, Monsieur Berard, wealthy from raising and selling sugar, baptized Pierre into the Catholic faith and also educated him. He trained the boy as a house slave saving him from all the hard labor expended by those working out in the sugarcane fields.

Tensions were rising among the slave population in Haiti and the senior Berard returned to France. He left his son, Jean Berard, with the plantation. However, the pressure was building among the slaves over conditions and Jean decided it was time to leave. In 1787, he and his wife took five of his slaves with him including Pierre and his sister, Rosalie, and moved to New York City.

Jean Berard’s decision to leave Haiti proved to be a good one. In 1793, the slaves in Haiti revolted and Monsieur Berard heard that his plantation had been burned to the ground. He was so distraught that he passed away, probably from heart failure. Madame Berard was left without anything or anyone to help her, except, of course, Pierre.

When they arrived in New York several years earlier, Jean Berard had managed to get Pierre into an apprenticeship hairdresser program. The young man turned out to be an artist at hair styling. It was during  a time when the wealthy women had their hair stacked high with layers of curls and ribbons flowing down. Hair styling was time consuming and demanding and soon Pierre had more business than he could handle.

Pierre supported Madame Berard and was working almost 16 hours a day.  She eventually married a man named Monsieur Nicolas, also from Haiti. She made him promise that if anything happened to her he would make sure that Pierre was given his freedom. She passed away and Pierre was given his freedom. He had earned enough money to pay for the freedom of his fiancee, Juliette, and marry her. He also earned enough money to pay for Rosalie’s freedom. By this time Pierre was almost 45.

Pierre constantly spoke of the love of God and the beauty of the Catholic faith. He loved being Catholic and had no qualms about talking about it with his many customers. It did not matter to him that most were not Catholic and, for the most part, did not even like Catholics. He just wanted others to experience the joy he had in knowing his Catholic faith helped fill him with God’s love and they could have the same by embracing that same faith..

Pierre Toussaint was dedicated to the theological virtue of Charity (aka) Love. He cared for the sick and even brought them into his home nursing them back to health. He visited areas infected with disease and plague bringing food and clothing to the suffering. He even went to those who had been abandoned by their own families. He helped Mother Elizabeth Ann Seton (who had  an orphanage in the city) by raising money from his rich customers and giving the future saint his own money.

This was a Black Catholic man living during a time when being Catholic was even dangerous for white folks.  He attended daily Mass every day for 66 years. He sheltered orphans, provided foster care for children, helped them get into school and even helped some of them get their first jobs. During a cholera epidemic he crossed over the quarantine lines to help the sick without regard for his own well being.

Pierre Toussaint’s crowning achievement may have been his helping the Catholic Church raise the funds to build the first St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Mulberry St. He also provided and raised funding for the First Catholic School for Black children at St. Vincent de Paul in lower Manhattan.

Pierre Toussaint died on June 30, 1857. He was 87 years old. In 1991, based on documents and investigations into his life, Pierre was declared a Servant of God. In 1996 he was declared Venerable by Pope John Paul II reaching the second step on the journey to canonization. In addition, he was the first layman honored by having his remains moved to  the present St. Patrick’s  Cathedral on Fifth Avenue in midtown Manhattan.

Venerable Pierre Toussaint we thank you for your Love and ask for your continued prayers.

*This article first appeared in Aleteia on February 10, 2017

©Copyright Larry Peterson 2017   (©reprinted and updated  Larry Peterson 2020)

 


Marie Elisabeth Turgeon— Charity was her unifying principle and, though sick most of her short life, she founded the Sisters of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary.

Blessed Elisabeth Turgeon             public domain

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Everything turns out for the best for those who seek the will of God.”  Blessed Marie Elisabeth Turgeon

By Larry Peterson

Elisabeth Turgeon was born February 7, 1840, in Beaumont (Quebec) Canada. She was the fifth child of nine that would be born to Louis-Marc Turgeon and Angele Labrecque. Elisabeth was always sickly but was blessed with a brilliant mind. When she was 15, her dad died. Consequently, her schooling was put on hold because she had to stay at home to help her mom with the younger children.

Five years later, Elisabeth was able to return to school and she began studying to be a teacher. She entered the Ecole Normale in Quebec and graduated in 1862 with her teaching credentials. She went on to teach is Saint-Romuald and in Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupre. But someone else had his eye on her. His name was Monsignor Jean Langevin, who was the Bishop of the Rimouski Diocese, a city in Quebec. He recognized her qualities and wanted her to begin training qualified teachers for his diocese.

Elisabeth’s plans were once again put on hold. This time it was because of her bad health. There was never a definitive diagnosis but she lost all her strength and had to fight hard to regain it. During her recovery time, she tutored children on a one-to-one basis. She also turned to St. Anne and asked for her help, promising to teach for free if she helped cure her.

Slowly but surely, her health improved and Bishop Langerin contacted her again asking for her help. He wanted her to direct the small community of teachers he had put together in his diocese. She was afraid of her health deteriorating but accepted the position believing it is God’s will to do so. The deciding factor for Elisabeth was that the bishop wanted this group to become a religious order. Ironically, Elizabeth always believed that her ultimate calling was to be a teaching nun.

On April 3, 1875, she accepted Bishop Langevin’s invitation and joined the small group of women who the bishop had chosen to start this new ministry in his diocese. The group was called Soeurs de Petites Ecoles which means Sisters of the Little Schools.  Elisabeth was appointed to be their director. Their initial mission was to dedicate themselves to the education of the poor children that were spread all about the surrounding countryside.

Elisabeth set to work establishing schools in the vast Diocese of Rimouski. It was a daunting task as much of the area was newly settled Canadian wilderness. But within a few years, five schools had been established in five different towns.

On September 12, 1878, with Bishop  Langevin’s approval, she renamed and established her order calling it the Congrégation des Sœurs de Notre-Dame du Saint-Rosaire meaning Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of the Holy  Rosary.

On September 12, 1879,  Elizabeth and twelve other ladies made their formal vows. Elisabeth was appointed Mother Superior and from that point on, was known as Mother Marie Elisabeth Turgeon or simply, Mother Superior.

Mother Elisabeth’s health was deteriorating rapidly and by March of 1881, she was mostly bedridden. By August, she was dying and on August 15, the Feast of the Assumption, she was anointed and met with the members of her order to bid farewell. She died on August 17,1881. She was 41 years old.

Mother Marie Elisabeth was declared Venerable by Pope Francis on October 11, 2013. In September 2014, a miracle was attributed to her intercession. Then on April 26, 2015, she was beatified at the Cathedral in Rimouski by the official representative of Pope Francis, Cardinal Angelo Amato.

Today the Sisters of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary are at work in ten countries, six provinces in Canada, and nine dioceses in Quebec.  Mother Mary Elisabeth always said, “the surest way to go to Jesus is through Mary.”. This explains the motto of the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary: “All for Jesus through Mary.”

Blessed Marie Elisabeth Turgeon, please pray for us.

copyright©Larry Peterson 2020


St. Vincent de Paul—Some facts about his life you may not know

St. Vincent de Paul                                         Wikipedia commons

By Larry Peterson

I have been a member of the St. Vincent de Paul Society for twenty-five years. At present I am not active but being part of this organization has allowed me to interact and work with the least and most marginalized of God’s people. My affiliation with the society has allowed me to experience some of the most uplifting moments of my life.

Those who reached out to us were always in dire straits. They had no food, had been evicted, could not pay for life-saving medication, had no water, had no gas or electricity among other necessities of life. There were even those who had no shoes.  Somehow, we always managed to help anyone who came to us. If we did not have the capabilities, we were able to forward them to a place that could.

I mention those things because it all goes back to the example and inspiration displayed by one man; St. Vincent de Paul. On his feast day of September 27, here are a few things you may not have known about this great saint.

  • The first one is; St. Vincent did NOT found the St. Vincent de Paul Society. It was named in his honor by Frederick Ozanam, the 20-year-old student who modeled the society after St. Vincent’s works and teachings. The highlighted link will give you Frederick’s story.

 

  • Vincent de Paul was captured by pirates and sold into slavery. Desperate for money Vincent was notified of an inheritance he had received from an elderly woman who knew him. He had made the journey to Bourdeaux to claim the estate. Disappointed that the inheritance was mostly needed to satisfy a debt, Vincent headed back to Toulouse. The ship he had taken was attacked by pirates and most of the crew was killed or wounded, including the captain. Vincent and the other passengers were taken into chains and sold into slavery and taken to Tunis. Vincent remained a slave for two years before escaping with another and making it back to France.

 

  • Vincent could have been a “community ” Upon returning to France he was working in a church in the country. The area was so poor many people actually died from starvation. Vincent was horrified and began contacting old friends, many of whom were wealthy, asking for help. He formed groups and they went from house to house seeking clothing, food, and furniture. They were so successful that word spread and other parishes asked to be taught how to organize such efforts. Vincent’s organizational skills began being emulated all over France.

 

  • Vincent de Paul was the founder of a religious order called The Vincentians. Under Vincent’s rule, those who entered ministry pledged to devote their lives to the spiritual and material needs of the poor. Later on Vincent, along with Louise de Marillac, founded the Sisters of Charity. The work started by Vincent de Paul expanded to opening hospitals, orphanages, and homes for the mentally ill. His work also included serving prisoners and slaves.

 

Vincent de Paul died on September 27, 1660. He was canonized a saint on August 13, 1729 by Pope Benedict XIII.

It is not sufficient for me to love God if I do not love my neighbor. I belong to God and to the poor.” –St. Vincent de Paul

St. Vincent de Paul, please pray for us.

 

 

 


An Example of the Dark Side of Secularism—attacking the Knights of Columbus

Knights of Columbus Color Guard                                                                    kofcknights.org

By Larry Peterson

I am not going to use any names here. There is no point. Everyone knows who is who.

The Epiphany of the Lord for 2019 will be celebrated on January 6. The entrance antiphon  will read, “Arise Jerusalem, and look to the East and see your children gathered from the rising to the setting of the sun.”  Baruch 5:5

How fitting as we hear how the three wise men from the East, followed the brilliantly shining Star using it as their guide to lead them to the Savior of the world. They were seeking out Goodness and Love, and all they wished to do was worship the One who brought it.

Flash forward 2000+ years and we head into the year 2019.  Two political “rising stars” from the West (who also happen to be United States Senators; one from California and one from Hawaii)  have decided to attack a man who has been named for consideration for a seat on the United States District Court in Nebraska. They are pounding the print and media with their message saying this man is not qualified to be a judge because his views are “extreme.” They know this because he is a member of the Knights of Columbus. Herod would be proud.

The Senator from Hawaii has decided that the Catholic views on abortion and same-sex marriage held by the Knights of Columbus are “extreme.” The Senator from California depicted the Knights as “an all-male society” and asked the judicial nominee if he was aware that the Knights of Columbus “opposed a woman’s right to choose” and were against “marriage equality.” In the new democratic party approving of abortion and same ex-marriage seems to be the litmus test as to whether or not you are “good or bad.”

Those two senators are not the only two trashing the judicial candidate for being Catholic and a member of the Knights of Columbus. Most of those who call themselves “Democrat” is too. These people seem to think that the desire to honor and protect life and traditional marriage (you know, between a man and a woman) makes you an ‘extremist”.

Why even the incoming Speaker of the House, a “devout” Catholic, proudly teaches that abortion is a woman’s “sacred right.”  This flies into the very core of Catholic teaching and is an abomination created for political gain. What has happened to truth, honor,  and integrity?

Here is the thing; I am a member of the Knights of Columbus and have been a member since 1964. I also have another 1.9 million men around the world whom I call “Brother.” You see, we Knights are all Brothers and proud of it.

We proudly proclaim our core principles of Charity, Unity, Fraternity, and Patriotism without shame or hesitation.   We respect and defend life all over the world. We (the Knights of Columbus) donated over $185 million and  K of C Service hours valued at $1.9 billion in 2017.

Our charitable activities include the Christian Refugee Relief Fund, Disaster Relief, the Ultrasound Initiative, Coats for Kids, Special Olympics, the Global Wheelchair Mission, and Habitat for Humanity. Plus so much more at the local levels by so many K of C Councils spread from coast to coast and around the world.

So you see, when these very important people decide they do not like our principles and beliefs and think they are picking on only one person (Re: Brett Kavanaugh) they are not. They are trashing millions of people and 1.9 million of them are members of the Knights of Columbus.

One final thought, the senator from California, suggested that the Knights of Columbus is  “an all-male society. She might do a bit more research because she obviously has never heard of the Columbiettes. They are the womens’ branch of the Knights of Columbus and this year they celebrate their 80th anniversary.  Yes, we Knights work hand in hand with our Columbiette Sisters and together, we do great things for others.

From Venerable Fulton J Sheen:   There is no word more “dangerous” than liberalism, because to oppose it is the new “unforgivable sin.”

 


On the Fifth Anniversary of her Passing: Remembering a future saint: Mother Antonia Brenner aka The “Prison Angel”

By Larry Peterson

Mother Antonia Brenner Praying with Prisoners in La Mesa prison

Mother Antonia Brenner Praying with Prisoners in La Mesa prison

This is a love story. No, it is not about romantic love. Rather, it is about the love of

Christ exploding in the soul of a woman who ran with her God-given gift and did her best to shower it upon some of the meanest and worst criminals in Mexico.

This is about Mother Antonia Brenner, who was born in Beverly Hills, CA, was married and divorced twice, had seven children and ultimately became known as the “Prison Angel” of La Mesa Prison, the worst and most dangerous prison in all of Mexico.  Mother Antonia died five years ago on October 17. On the anniversary of her passing, I just thought I would remember her with a few words.

Mary Clarke was born in Beverly Hills, Calif.on December 1, 1926. Her dad, Joe Clarke, was a successful businessman and Mary and her two siblings grew up surrounded with affluence and the glitz of the movie world. One thing was certain about Papa Joe. No matter how good life was for his family he made sure his kids were always taught to help the less fortunate. The desire to help others would blossom in Mary and was one day destined to explode. However, before the “explosion” Mary embarked on a circuitous life journey.

Mary married at 18 and had three children. The first died shortly after birth. That marriage ended in divorce and then Mary married again. The wedding took place in Las Vegas and it was to a man named Carl Brenner. She and Carl had five children together but ultimately, that marriage also ended in divorce. Mary had somehow distanced herself from her strict Catholic upbringing. No matter, it seems that the Holy Spirit had his eye on Mary Clarke her entire life. It was time for Him to shower His grace on His daughter.

Mary became more and more involved in charity work and has her seven children got older she began to visit La Mesa Penitentiary to deliver donations such as food, medicine, and clothing to the prisoners. The plight of the prisoners at La Mesa began to impact her greatly and as time went by her growing compassion and love of neighbor would become focused on these people. They would become her specialty, her ministry, her purpose in life.

In 1977, after her kids were grown and her second divorce was final, Mary gave away her expensive belongings, moved out of her home in Ventura and headed to La Mesa. She had received permission to move there. Her new home was to be a 10′ by 10′ cell. She would live as any other inmate, sleeping in her concrete cell and having only cold water and prison food. The amenities in her room included a Crucifix on the wall, a Bible and Spanish dictionary nearby and a hard, prison bed. In the morning she lined up with the other prisoners for roll call. This was to be her home for the next thirty years.

The story of how this twice divorced woman and mother of seven kids from two marriages was accepted by the Catholic Church as a Sister and founder of a new order can be found at the links provided. Suffice it to say that as time went by Sister Antonia became “La Mama” (Mother Antonia) aka The Prison Angel,

“La Mama”. The Prison Angel

Mother Antoni© Brenner praying with prisoners.. courtesy eudistssisters.org

She walked freely among the drug traffickers, thieves, murderers, rapists, and others touching cheeks and offering prayers. Many of these people were among the most violent and desperate of men. Yet she happily walked with them and comforted and consoled them and held their heads between her hands as they were dying.

Mother Antonia Brenner truly saw the face of Christ in each and every prisoner she came in contact with. She loved them all. Why else would hardened criminals, some who had never loved or been loved,  call the diminutive woman who hailed from Beverly Hills, “La Mama”? They loved her in return.

I believe that one day Mother Antonia Brenner will be canonized a saint and inducted into the “Catholic Hall of Fame”. She was an example for each and every one of us showing us how to selflessly “love our neighbor” no matter who they might be.

N.B. Mother Antonia founded the order known as The Eudist Servants of the 11th Hour. The word, Eudist, is taken from St. John Eudes, a 17th-century priest, and founder of the Eudists Order and the Order of Our Lady of Charity. The 11th Hour indicates that the Eudists sisters accept women in life having a second calling. They must be at least 45 years-old to enter the order.

©Copyright Larry Peterson 2018