A Start to Black History Month
—by Angie Salinas
Apartment Manager, Jugan Terrace
February is Black History Month, and as part of our celebration, our Residents in Jugan Terrace gathered together to receive something special and to recognize someone special.
Mother Provincial Julie Marie of the Sacred Heart gifted to the Terrace a lovely portrait of the Venerable Father Augustus Tolton, the first known African-American to be ordained a priest for the United States. His life is a remarkable story.
Born into slavery in Missouri in 1854, Augustus and his family escaped to Illinois, where they lived as free citizens. Baptized and reared Roman Catholic, Augustus was a devout man who answered the call to become a priest. Because no Catholic seminary of the time would admit an African-American, he left the United States in 1880 to study for the priesthood in Rome, where he was ordained in 1886.
He returned to the United States for parish ministry, first in Quincy, Illinois, where he grew up, and then in Chicago, where he led the building of St. Monica Church on the South Side. Built on the corner of 36th and Dearborn Streets and dedicated on January 14, 1894, St. Monica’s was hailed as Chicago’s first Black Catholic church.
Under his careful stewardship, the parish steadily grew from 30 to 600 parishioners. Engaging and eloquent, “Good Father Gus,” as he was affectionately called by many, worked tirelessly with energy and devotion to welcome Black Catholics to St. Monica’s.
But in three brief years after the opening of his parish, he died of heat stroke in 1897, a year when Chicago suffered a prolonged and deadly heatwave. This kind and humble priest was only 43 years old. His ministry may have been brief, but his impact was keenly felt.
Granted the title of “venerable” by Pope Francis in 2019, Father Tolton is now only two steps away from sainthood: beatification and canonization. Approved miracles through his intercession are needed for this extraordinary individual to be beatified and then canonized.
Jugan Terrace is delighted to display this portrait of this significant African-American in the history of Chicago, the nation, and the Catholic Church.