Pilgrims from the Diocese of Camden gather for a photo at Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York on April 20. The trip was sponsored by the Black Catholic Ministry Commission (BCMC) to the tomb of the Venerable Pierre Toussaint.
Sixty-five youth and adults from the Camden Diocese made a pilgrimage to New York City on April 20 to visit the tomb of the Venerable Pierre Toussaint in St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York and learn about his life.
Sponsored by the Black Catholic Ministry Commission (BCMC), the trip saw pilgrims ride to New York in two busses, one from St. Monica Parish in Atlantic City and the other from Cherry Hill.
Pierre Toussaint, 1766-1853, was born into slavery in Haiti and became a freeman, successful businessman, and philanthropist in New York City. Because of his generosity to the church and the poor, he is referred to as the father of Catholic Charities in New York. Despite his works of charity, he also suffered discrimination in the church he loved.
Through Bishop Dennis Sullivan, the BCMC learned that Toussaint was originally buried with his wife and daughter in the Basilica of Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Mulberry Street. After he became a candidate for sainthood, his remains were exhumed and placed in the crypt of St. Patrick’s in midtown Manhattan.
Toussaint is the only lay person honored, alongside cardinals and archbishops, with burial in the crypt of St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
The pilgrims first stopped at Old St. Patrick’s, and were met by historian James Garrity and pastor Msgr. Donald Sakano. Garrity shared the history of Toussaint and took the group on a tour of the cemetery.
Next, the group went to St. Patrick’s Cathedral and were greeted by Msgr. Robert Ritchie, rector, who gave them a history of the cathedral.
Brother Tyrone Davis, director of the Office of Black Catholics for the Archdiocese of New York and executive director of the Pierre Toussaint Guild, served as the guide for the group. He passed out prayer cards and literature on Toussaint and led pilgrims into the crypt.
The pilgrimage culminated in a noon Mass, with Father Yvans Jazon, administrator of St. Monica Parish, concelebrating.
Informative and moving, the pilgrimage left many inspired.
“After hearing of the trials and indignations that Pierre Toussaint suffered and (the) fact that he never wavered from his ministry and service to the poor is such an inspiration,” said Rita Bostic, Diocesan Gospel Choir Director and BCMC member. “He was truly the disciple, that Jesus (calls) us all to be.”
Karen Johnson, BCMC member and pilgrim, said Toussaint’s “life and faith…is a source for pride for black Catholics.”
“It was a wonderful experience for each of us,” Father Jazon said. “After this experience, I am even more firmly committed to promote the sainthood cause of our brother, Pierre Toussaint.”