Pierre Toussaint Dinner Honors Bishop Espaillat, Married Couple 


More than 350 people gathered at the Pierre Toussaint Scholarship Fund Awards Dinner to honor three recipients of the Pierre Toussaint Medallion for their “extraordinary leadership” in their profession “and for encouraging and supporting young leaders.” 

Those gathered Nov. 7 at Guastavino’s in Manhattan honored Auxiliary Bishop Joseph A. Espaillat as well as entrepreneurs Nellie and Herbert Thomas Jr. 

“This is the 14th time I’ve had the honor of being part of the Pierre Toussaint Dinner,” Cardinal Dolan said. “I add my congratulations to those of the crowd, being still a grateful recipient of the honor in the past…Leadership for the Now, our theme this evening: the best way for leadership is through education, and the best way to form leaders is to look beyond ourselves; and we do this at the Pierre Toussaint Dinner.”

Since 1978, the medallion has been presented to distinguished persons for their positive leadership, extraordinary efforts in support of human life, human rights and social justice, spiritual values and quality education for all. 

Bishop Espaillat, who was ordained as a bishop in March, is pastor of St. Anthony of Padua in the Bronx and serves as the spiritual leader of archdiocesan Youth Ministry. 

“It is a great honor,” Bishop Espaillat told the audience. “Whatever you do, do from the heart...Venerable Pierre Tousaint could have been a free man” long before he was freed in 1807, “but he decided to remain a slave to buy others’ freedom” including his future wife Juliette. “And that is love,” the bishop said. 

Bishop Espaillat was joined by his parents and said his sister, a U.S. Army major, was away “serving our country.” He led the audience in praying for the people living in social turmoil in Haiti, the birthplace of the Venerable Pierre Toussaint, who cared for the sick and dying.

Nellie and Herbert Thomas Jr. are entrepreneurs, benefactors and alumni of Xavier University of Louisiana. “To whom much is given much is required. We all know this means we are held responsible for what we have,” said Mrs. Thomas in her acceptance speech, citing her low-income upbringing in rural Louisiana and her academic mentors. 

“If we have been blessed with talent, wealth, knowledge…it is expected that we benefit others. This is an upfront reminder by God.” 

Mr. Thomas said, “We thank you for this honor; it is extremely heartfelt.” He went on to introduce the Thomas children and grandchildren in the audience, citing their academic and career accomplishments.

Brother Tyrone Davis, C.F.C., executive director of the archdiocesan Office of Black Ministry, which established the Pierre Toussaint Scholarship Program in 1983, told the audience, “This is the day the Lord has made, and we will rejoice in celebration and just be glad in it.” He thanked all who have helped in the scholarship program efforts, including SOMOS Community Care and the Mother Cabrini Health Foundation. 

The Pierre Toussaint Scholarship Fund provides support and mentorship for college student leaders from the Archdiocese of New York. The program and fund are named after the Haitian New Yorker, Venerable Pierre Toussaint, whose cause for canonization is being promoted by the archdiocese.

Elise Milius, 22, was among the scholarship program alumni at the dinner. She graduated this year from Macaulay Honors College at Lehman, majoring in finance and economics, and she is a graduate of St. Barnabas High School in the Bronx. 

“The (Pierre Toussant) program was life-changing. I started when I was in high school,” Ms. Milius told Catholic New York while sitting at a table designated for program alumni. “It has helped me professionally, personally and spiritually. It’s a significantly important program that grounds you in your faith.”

The dinner and the fund also provide support for College Pierre Toussaint, a secondary school in Haiti established in 2006 in the small rural community of Sassier.