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 CNS Story:

SAINTS-TOUSSAINT Mar-7-2008 (780 words) With photos. xxxn

Maryland couple hopes son's medical case will help Toussaint's cause

By Angelo Stagnaro
Catholic News Service

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.

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 Feb. 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 courage.

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 Toussaint.

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 poor.

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 St. 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 Avenue.

"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 son.

At his confirmation Feb. 5 of this year, Joey was anointed by Washington Archbishop Donald W. 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."


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