Fairfield, CT – Sacred Heart University (SHU) students will have a new residence hall this year named after Pierre Toussaint, a freed slave who became a noted philanthropist.
Construction crews have been working at the former Jewish Senior Services site for the past several months to turn the land — now called SHU’s Upper Quad — into a residential village.
“Most rooms in the hall will be doubles, but there also will be single rooms. The hall’s ground floor will be used for common spaces and staff offices. Students will have use of an arcade-style game room and a large, common lounge area with a fish tank,” said Joel Quintong, director of residential life.
While crews work on renovations for the new hall, they also are creating open outdoor spaces and terraced steps in amphitheater style to walk up and down between the Upper Quad and Lower Quad. The Upper Quad also will feature a ’50s-themed diner.
Naming the hall after Toussaint reflects on the University’s mission. “Pierre Toussaint’s selfless commitment to the underprivileged speaks eloquently to SHU’s mission of hospitality, a key feature of the Catholic intellectual tradition that defines us. Such hospitality consists of a welcome attitude to the stranger and a nonjudgmental approach to diverse ways of being and thinking,” said Michael W. Higgins, distinguished professor of Catholic thought. “Toussaint crossed racial and social-economic boundaries in his ministry of love. Sacred Heart strives to do likewise.”
Toussaint’s owners brought him as a slave to New York City from the French colony of St. Domingue in 1787. He gained freedom in 1807 after their deaths and took on the name Toussaint in honor of François-Dominique Toussaint Louverture (also known as Toussant L’Ouverture), the man who led the revolution that established Haiti before his death in 1803.
Within a few years, Toussaint married and became a well-known philanthropist, having earned a good living and developed valuable connections as a hairdresser to the city’s elite. He and his wife Juliette, also a former slave, turned their home into an orphanage and established a credit bureau, employment agency and a refuge for priests and poor travelers. He contributed money and helped raise more for the Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Mulberry Street in New York City. In the late 1900s, Archbishop Terence Cooke proposed Toussaint for sainthood, at which point his remains were brought to St. Patrick’s Cathedral on 5th Avenue to be interred below the main altar among New York City’s bishops. Pope John Paul II beatified Toussaint in 1996, and the process for possible canonization continues.