Photo by: Joe Vericker
This week, Director of Alumni Relations Zane Massey '96 P'22 shares his reflections on the Pierre Toussaint Scholarship Fund Dinner.
On Monday, November 1, I had the honor of attending the Pierre Toussaint Scholarship Fund Awards Dinner. In addition to enjoying a great night of companionship, fellow guests and I had the honor of being there to witness the presentation of the Pierre Toussaint Medallion to former Xavier trustee Rev. Gregory C. Chisholm, S.J. and Helen T. Lowe as well as posthumously to Rev. Dr. Thomas G. Schaefer.
Each of these recipients has had great impact on our society: Ms. Lowe as a former Director of Development for the Archdiocese of New York for 20 years and now as a non-profit development strategist; Dr. Schaefer, who—before his untimely passing last July—led a life of service through early missionary work with the Peace Corps in Central Africa and through pastorates that included the parishes of Nativity of the Mother of God, Greenfield and St. Mary, Ambridge, St. John the Baptist, and St. John Chrysostom in Pittsburgh; and Fr. Chisholm, who leaves a legacy of more than 10 years of community activism, service, and altruism as pastor of St. Charles Borromeo in Harlem.
Under the auspices of the Archdiocese of New York’s Cultural Diversity Apostolate and led by the Office of Black Ministry (OBM), the Pierre Toussaint Scholarship Fund provides support to future leaders across diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds, who are actively engaged in their parishes. It was an honor to see such leadership on display, through the efforts of OBM Executive Director Brother Tyrone Davis and Associate Director of the Scholarship Fund, Ms. Leah T. Dixon. It was a powerful experience—being with students, educators, pastors, and partners of various backgrounds who are all so passionate about eliminating disparities in education.
The gravity of this historical moment was reflected in the speech of Fr. Chisholm, who spent the duration of his remarks thanking the countless people he partnered with throughout his tenure at St. Charles Borromeo.
“It was so great to see Fr. Chisholm honored at the Toussaint Awards dinner,” said Isaiah Blake '17, who attended the dinner with me. “His words were filled with humility and power and reminded us of his commitment to those on the fringes of society. As a new history teacher, it was wonderful to be at the table with other Xavier faculty in support of the merits of brilliant Black and brown students."
Fr. Chisholm’s humility inspired me to think of the humility displayed by the scholarship organization’s namesake, The Venerable Pierre Toussaint, a Haitian hairdresser who came to New York a slave and died one of its most respected citizens. Toussaint was a man of extreme humility, taking in orphans and refugees while entering into quarantined sections of the city to minister to those with yellow fever. Toussaint did this while supporting his slave master’s widow after his master died and after he was freed shortly before the widow’s death in 1807.
After 1807, when he was finally granted freedom, Pierre Toussaint could have led a life of selfishness, but he chose to give. Rev. Schaefer chose to give and Fr. Chisholm and Ms. Lowe are still giving. Brother Tyrone, Leah Dixon, and the many who were gathered together on November 1 choose to give in ways alike and in different ways. As I think of the spirit of accountability present in that room, it makes me want to be more accountable and attentive to the needs of others.
As we continue to celebrate Black Catholic History Month and look forward to holidays spent with loved ones, let us all make the conscious choice to give more, take less, and be accountable for and attentive to each other.