Last March (2010) Cardinal George introduced to the Archdiocese of Chicago and the world the cause for sainthood for Father Augustus Tolton. Father Tolton was the first recognized black priest to serve in the United States. Tolton studied and was ordained in Rome because no seminary in the U.S. would accept blacks. He came to Chicago in 1889 to serve a fledgling black Catholic community that had been gathering for worship in the basement of St. Mary Church. He established the first black Catholic parish in Chicago, St. Monica’s, which was located at 36th and Dearborn.
Born a slave in Missouri in 1854, Tolton was part of a heroic escape to freedom with his two siblings led by his mother, Martha Jane Tolton when he was eight years old. For a timeline on the key events in Father Tolton’s life visit the Tolton Canonization website: www.toltoncanonization.org.
For black Catholics, especially in Chicago, Father Tolton is a historical figure who is considered the founder of the black Catholic community. His legacy includes Tolton Regional Catholic High School in Columbia, Missouri, the Augustus Tolton Pastoral Ministry Program at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, and myriad other programs, councils and initiatives in the Catholic community today. Father Tolton’s place in history stands firm. The cause for canonization is to confirm for us his place in heaven.
As a Secular Franciscan the life of St. Francis of Assisi has shone brightly in my life. Francis, much more than a historical figure, has influenced my devotion to Christ and how I walk my Christian journey. Another icon for me is St. Martin de Porres, who was canonized in 1962 when I was 9 years old. This was a big deal for black Catholics, as he was the first black saint from the Americas. I chose the name “Martin” for my Confirmation a few years later. My son’s name is Martin. Both Martin de Porres and Francis are figures in history whose stories have elevated my life and with whom I have spiritual intimacy. Praying to them to intercede for me to God is like asking a favor from dear friends.
As we journey toward the beatification of Augustus Tolton, his story will be told to many and in many ways. Perhaps in the telling and hearing we will develop spiritual intimacy of this saintly man who served so boldly and lovingly in this local Church.
On November 11, 2011 there will be a Gala Benefit Fundraiser on behalf of the cause for canonization of Father Tolton. It will be at the Hyatt Regency McCormick Place. For details go to www.toltoncanonization.org.
- With what saint(s) do you have spiritual intimacy? How has this touched your life?
- What inspires you about the story of Fr. Augustus Tolton?