The Venerable Father Augustus Tolton
On Wednesday, February 12, as part of our celebration of Black History Month, we welcomed Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Perry to St. Mary’s Home to share the amazing story of Fr. Augustus Tolton, the first known African-American to be ordained a priest for the United States. Considered to be a founding father for black Catholics in Chicago, he has been put on the path to sainthood by Pope Francis, who hailed his “heroic virtues.”
Bishop Perry, postulator for Fr. Tolton’s cause for sainthood, described the life, struggles, determination, and inspiration of this man of incredible, resolute faith.
Born into slavery in Missouri in 1854, Augustus and his family escaped to Illinois, where they lived as free citizens. Because no Catholic seminary of the time would admit an African-American, he left the U.S. in 1880 to study for the priesthood in Rome, where he was ordained in 1886. Fr. Tolton returned to the U.S. for parish ministry, first in Quincy, Illinois, then in Chicago, where he spearheaded the building of St. Monica, the city’s first black Catholic church. Fr. Tolton died of heat stroke in 1897, a year when Chicago was hit by a sustained and deadly heatwave. He was only 43 years of age. Although his ministry was relatively short lived, his impact was nonetheless profound.
Bishop Perry fielded questions from the gathered Residents from St. Mary’s Home and Jugan Terrace, Sisters, and staff, who had dined together for a special soul food lunch. He explained the cause for Fr. Tolton and also the process of canonization.
Bestowed with the title of “venerable” by Pope Francis in 2019, Fr. Tolton is now only two steps away from sainthood: beatification and canonization. Approved miracles through his intercession are needed for Fr. Tolton to be beatified and then canonized. “We wait on God for that,” Bishop Perry added.
To cap the event, Bishop Perry presented Mother Julie with a framed photograph of this humble priest, extraordinary individual, and notable African-American in the history of the United States, Chicago, and the Church.