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The Voice of the Black Community

Black History

First black Catholic priest moved closer to sainthood
Published Thursday, July 11, 2019
by Afro-American Newspapers

The Rev. Augustus Tolton is one step closer to becoming a Roman Catholic saint.

On June 11, Pope Francis declared Tolton to be “venerable,” the second of a usually four-step path toward canonization. The Pope’s designation means Tolton lived a life of “heroic virtue,” according to the Archdiocese of Illinois, where he founded the first African-American parish in Chicago.

“We welcome this news from the Holy Father on the advancement of Fr. Tolton’s cause for sainthood,” said Cardinal Blase J. Cupich, archbishop of Chicago, in a statement. “Fr. Tolton’s holiness comes from his patient suffering, his brave spirit and his pastoral heart for all who came to him. His struggles to become a priest and his remarkable service to God’s People are admirable examples.”

Tolton was born the son of slaves in Missouri in 1854. His father, Peter Tolton, joined the Union Army in 1861. A few months later, his mother, Martha Jane, escaped with he and his siblings to Quincy, Illinois. From early on, obtaining an education was an uphill battle for Tolton, simply because of his race. When no American seminary would accept him, he eventually enrolled in a seminary in Rome, where he was ordained in 1886. Tolton went on to the first African American Catholic parish in Chicago. After strenuous work among the city’s poor, Tolton died of heatstroke and uremia in 1897, at the age of 43.

“Fr. Tolton’s story represents the long and rich history of African American Catholics who have lived through troubling chapters and setbacks in our American history,” said Most Rev. Joseph N. Perry, who has been championing Tolton’s canonization. “Lessons from his early life as a slave and the prejudice he endured in becoming a priest still apply today with our current problems of racial and social injustices and inequities that divide neighborhoods, churches and communities by race, class and ethnicity. His work isn’t done. We will continue to honor his life and legacy of goodness, inclusivity, empathy and resolve in how we treat one another.”

Two other black American Catholics – Henriette Delille and Pierre Toussaint – have been declared Venerable, but none have been declared saints. If a miracle is attributed to Tolton, he will be declared “Blessed,” the next requirement for sainthood. Lastly, a second miracle may be required.




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