Jean-Bertrand Aristide was born on 15 July 1953 to a poor family living in Port-Salut, a fishing village on Haiti's southern peninsula. While still very young, Aristide moved with his mother and sister to the capital Port-au-Prince. There he was educated in a Catholic school run by the Salesian religious order; in 1974 he graduated from College of Notre Dame in Cap-Haitien. Following his graduation, Aristide joined the Salesian seminary in La Vega in the Dominican Republic. Upon completion of his studies he returned to Haiti where he pursued postgraduate education, studying psychology at the State University of Haiti and philosophy at the Grand Seminaire Notre Dame. Afterwards, he traveled to Rome and Israel pursuing education in biblical theology.
On 3 July 1983, Aristide was ordained as a Salesian priest and given charge of St. Joseph's parish, located just outside Port-au-Prince. There he shared his parish's struggles and became their spokesperson. He continued his role as spokesperson for his parishioners after becoming the priest for St. Jean Bosco, a church located in one of Port-au-Prince's slums. He was referred to as Ti Tide, an affectionate reference to his diminutive stature. Soon he became a spokesman for the progressive ti legliz (little church) movement in the Haitian Catholic Church. His ability to touch the common people and his message of human dignity, " tout moun se moun " (every human being is a human being), attracted thousands to his church. Aristide gained national attention when his sermons were aired on the Roman Catholic station, Radio Soleil.
Aristide speaks English, French, Creole, Spanish, Hebrew, Italian, and Portuguese fluently and is the author of several books. He is also an accomplished amateur musician and composer; he plays guitar, saxophone, organ, drums, clarinet, and piano. In 1996, he married Haitian-American lawyer Mildrid Touillot. They have two daughters.