Honorees, Scholarship Winners Promote Legacy of Pierre Toussaint

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At the annual Pierre Toussaint Scholarship Fund Awards dinner, held at the New York Marriott Marquis, Archbishop Dolan told those gathered, “This evening is about two of the most noble sentiments in the human project—memories and dreams.”

Some 340 people attended the Sept. 20 event, which was sponsored by the archdiocesan Office of Black Ministry. The Pierre Toussaint Scholarship Fund provides scholarship awards and mentorship to college students—there are 33 scholars for the 2011-2012 school year—and provides financial support to College Pierre Toussaint, a secondary school in Sassier, Haiti.

The archbishop, who served as honorary dinner chairman, told the guests that the reason for the dinner was to “reverently remember a Haitian-American Catholic, who one day, praise God, will be a saint.”

The archbishop was referring to Venerable Pierre Toussaint. A Haitian-born, former slave, Toussaint was a daily communicant at St. Peter’s Church in Lower Manhattan who raised funds for the first Catholic orphanage and began the first school for black children in the city. He also helped provide resources to build what is now St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral in Lower Manhattan. He was declared venerable in 1996 by Pope John Paul II and may become North America’s first black saint.

Archbishop Dolan noted that the night celebrates good works, like the work of the three Pierre Toussaint Medallion recipients honored at the dinner. He said that the dream is that such work will “continue to be effective and to radiate throughout all the world.”

The 2011 medallion recipients were Dr. Beverly A. Carroll, assistant director of the Secretariat of Cultural Diversity in the Church for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops; Father Reynaldo Culaba, C.Ss.R., a missionary priest and artist; and Joey Low, founder of Israel at Heart.

Dr. Carroll told CNY, “It really is a privilege to have your work recognized, especially following in the footsteps of the Venerable Pierre Toussaint, who was a great leader in the African-American community.”

Sandra Bookman of WABC Eyewitness News served as master of ceremonies. A special salute was given to the Church and people of the newly independent Republic of South Sudan. Serving as co-chairmen were Dennis and Batia Serrette and Stephen and Barbara Sweeny.

Brother Tyrone Davis, C.F.C., director of the Office of Black Ministry, speaking with CNY after the event, said of the honorees, “It’s always amazing how people just walk away being inspired by the stories of the people who we honor.”

The dinner, he explained, is just one of many events involving the Pierre Toussaint Scholars. “The program is more than just a check; we provide them with mentorship and support, and they seem to respond beautifully to it,” Brother Tyrone said.

He noted that the scholarship students attend a workshop and luncheon during winter break, and in the summer they participate in a Mass and brunch at a local parish with their families. The students are also involved in other events; for instance, the Pierre Toussaint scholars attended this year’s World Youth Day in Madrid as a group.

The students, Brother Tyrone said, take their studies seriously and “are very serious about doing something for somebody else.” He said with evident pride and joy, “They have remained, to my pleasant surprise, very connected to the Church.”

Among the dinner guests were parents of Pierre Toussaint Scholarship recipients. Brother Tyrone said the parents “really value the program.”

George and Miriam Ezike are the parents of Jideofor, a Pierre Toussaint Scholar who is now a freshman at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.

Ezike told CNY, “We are very excited to have our son receive a scholarship. We are devout Catholics and raise our children in the faith.” The family, which includes two other boys and a girl, are members of Holy Family parish in New Rochelle.

Ezike said that when they brought Jideofor to Carnegie Mellon they “encouraged him to stay active at the campus church.”

“We hope that he will keep enriching himself and the Church community at the school,” he said.

His wife, Miriam, told CNY that the scholarship was appreciated because it was one that “combines faith with education, two vitals that we take to heart.”

With a smile, Ezike said, “Pierre Toussaint is a very motivational and inspirational figure in the lives of Catholics and for black people. We are very excited to be part of the Pierre Toussaint family.”

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