Family hope cure may validate ex-slave’s canonisation

12 Mar 2008

By The Record

By Angelo Stagnaro
NEW YORK (CNS) – Pierre Toussaint was born into slavery in 1766 in the
French colony of Saint Dominque, which is modern-day Haiti. He died a
free, rich, pious and respected man in New York City June 30, 1853. And
one day he might very well be a saint.

A painting of Pierre Toussaint holding a pair of golden scissors opened in the shape of a cross over his heart. The scissors represent the simple tool that allowed him to make a good living as a hairdresser and in turn do many good works. Toussaint died June 30, 1853, at age 87. Photo: CNS


His cause was officially opened by Cardinal John J O’Connor of
New York in 1989, and Toussaint was declared venerable by Pope John
Paul II in 1997.
But he needs a miracle to move to the second step of the canonization process – beatification.
And John and Lisa Peacock of Silver Spring, Md., hope their son’s case might provide that miracle.
On October 28, 1999, Maryland pediatrician Dr.My-Huong Nguyen
examined one of her little patients, a 5-year-old named Joey Peacock.
She noticed the boy’s spine and shoulders were slightly uneven.
X-rays revealed Joey had scoliosis and would likely have to be fitted for a brace before the curves got worse.
In February 2000 Joey’s parents become aware of Toussaint’s
cause after reading an article about him in The Washington Post daily
newspaper. They decided to pray for his intervention to help their son.
On February 15 of that year, Joey had more X-rays taken and they showed the condition had disappeared.
Nguyen, a practicing Buddhist, testified at a tribunal called to
investigate what could not be explained medically. "A curved spine
doesn’t simply straighten without medical intervention practically
overnight," Nguyen said.
Though the Congregation for Saints’ Causes has already reviewed
the paperwork in the case, officials said it will wait to issue a final
decree until the boy has finished any unexpected adolescent growth
spurts, which could cause the scoliosis to recur.
Toussaint lived during some of the worst Nativist,
anti-Catholic violence of the 19th century, but it did not keep him
from taking up Christ’s challenge to assist the poor, the despised, the
lonely and the alienated.
He attended 6 a.m. Mass daily and had a strong devotion to the
rosary and to the Eucharist. He was an accomplished catechist who could
explain the church’s teachings simply and intelligently and with
Toussaint’s owner, Marie Elizabeth Berard, the widow of the man
who had brought him to New York from Haiti, apprenticed him to one of
the city’s leading hairdressers and he quickly became the most
sought-after hairstylist in the city. Every fashionable woman in New
York knew she wasn’t coiffed properly unless she was coiffed by
In 1807, on her deathbed, Berard granted Toussaint his freedom.
Toussaint used the fortune he had amassed to build an orphanage, an
employment agency, a hospice for the dying and a credit bureau for the
He offered hospitality to poor travelers, the homeless and
traveling priests and contributed greatly to the building of the
original St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Mulberry Street, known today as St
Patrick’s Old Cathedral.
"It’s at S. Patrick’s Old Cathedral where undeniable proof of
Toussaint’s incredible humility occurred," said Chris Flatz, the
church’s archivist and the parish manager who is himself strongly
devoted to Toussaint.
"On the day the cathedral was dedicated, he, along with all of
Catholic New York, milled through its doors. An overeager and
hypervigilant usher refused to allow Toussaint to enter," Flatz said.
Toussaint, the man who had helped finance the construction of the cathedral, apologized and turned to leave.
But, according to Flatz, one of the church’s priests recognized
him immediately, rebuked the usher and personally escorted Toussaint to
a seat of honor.
Toussaint died at age 87 and was buried in the cemetery of the
church he built. In 1990, Cardinal O’Connor had Toussaint’s remains
exhumed and installed in the crypt at St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth
"Toussaint is the only layperson buried in the crypt otherwise
exclusively reserved for New York City’s cardinals," explained Msgr.
Robert Ritchie, rector of St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
"We’re very proud to have Venerable Pierre Toussaint here with
us," he said in an interview. "It’s a blessing for the Church and for
the city."
While the Vatican has not determined whether their son was
miraculously cured, the Peacocks are sure Toussaint helped cure their
At his confirmation on February 5 of this year, Joey was anointed by
Washington Archbishop Donald Wuerl as he took "Pierre" as his
confirmation name.
"We were overjoyed to see Joseph walking with his sponsor and
brother John to receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit," Lisa Peacock
said. "To see him walking without bracing or surgery to correct the two
curves in his spine is a wonderful and joyous thing for our family."