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The Cause for Sainthood of The Servant of God Reverend Augustus Tolton Continues to Move Forward with Approval of the Positio from the Vatican’s Historical Commission

Reverend Tolton, a former slave, was an Archdiocese of Chicago priest in the late 1800s

Chicago, IL (April 30, 2018) – The cause for canonization of The Servant of God Reverend Augustus Tolton, the first African American to be ordained a Roman Catholic priest for the United States, has taken another step forward with the approval from the Vatican’s historical commission of the positio. This approval which certifies the historical record of the case are correct, marks the end of the research phase and is an important next step in the process for canonization. The cause, which was opened by the Archdiocese of Chicago in 2011, is scheduled to go before the Vatican’s theological commission in February 2019 which will further examine the holiness of Fr. Tolton’s life.

“We are pleased with the outcome of the assessment thus far,” said Most Reverend Joseph N. Perry, Auxiliary Bishop of Chicago and diocesan postulator for the Tolton cause. “We view the unanimous approval of the positio as a very positive sign going forward.”  

The positio, an official position paper prepared by the postulator, summarizes the examination of a candidate's life, heroic virtue or martyrdom, and any alleged miracles insofar as research can be obtained. Fr. Tolton’s positio was assembled through the compilation of documents, publications, correspondence, newspaper clippings, and historical facts of the era in which he lived, and through the testimony of clergy, religious and laity who could vouch for his reputation in the Catholic community as a holy man. Six historical and theological Vatican consultants ruled unanimously in favor of the Fr. Tolton positio, which was based on hundreds of pages of research completed in Chicago.

Born the son of slaves in Missouri, Fr. Tolton studied for priesthood in Rome as no American seminary would accept a man of his race. Ordained in 1886 for the Diocese of Alton, Illinois (now Springfield), he served his first three years as a priest in that diocese in the city of Quincy at a Church for black Catholics. At the invitation of Archbishop Patrick Feehan, he came to Chicago in 1889 to labor among a small community of black Catholics, starting a new parish, St. Monica at 36th and Dearborn Streets. He led St. Monica Parish until his passing in 1897 at the age of 43.

The cause for canonization of Fr. Tolton is of significant historical importance for the African American Catholic community. “Fr. Tolton lived during a particularly tumultuous time in American history especially for race relations,” explained Bishop Perry. “He was a pioneer of his era for inclusiveness drawing both blacks and whites to his parish in Quincy. However, due to his race, he suffered discrimination and condemnation. The beatification and canonization of Fr. Tolton will signal a significant milestone in the history of black Catholicism in the United States.” 

The Canonization Process and Next Steps

The cause moves forward in February 2019 when the theological commission, with the Congregation for Causes of Saints, further investigates documentation of Fr. Tolton’s extraordinary and virtuous life to consider him “Venerable.” If the commission validates Fr. Tolton’s heroic virtues, the cause moves to the bishops in the congregation for authorization, which when granted, then moves on to the Pope for approval. He will then will issue a “Decree of Heroic Virtue,” in which Fr. Tolton earns the title “Venerable.”

The next stage will be the beatification process, which is the approval of miracles by experts and theologians. It must be proven that one miracle has been granted by God through the intercession of Fr. Tolton. Once confirmed, Fr. Tolton will be declared “Blessed,” the third step in the canonization process. For canonization, a second miracle may be required. The final decision lies with the Pope who has the authority to wave a second miracle. Once approved by the Pope, Fr. Tolton will be canonized as a saint.

Fr. Tolton’s cause for canonization was announced by the late Francis Cardinal George, OMI, in March 2010 with Fr. Tolton’s receiving the designation “Servant of God,” a title given to a candidate by the Vatican once a cause has begun, in February 2011. The research phase of the cause concluded on September 29, 2014 with a special ceremony in St. James Chapel in Chicago featuring the signing, sealing and binding of the dossier to be sent to Rome.

On March 9, 2015, the Official Opening of the Acts of the Diocesan Inquiry into the life and virtues of Fr. Tolton began at the Congregation for Causes of Saints in Rome. On April 17, 2015, the Congregation declared in the affirmative of the juridical validity of the Diocesan Inquiry. The nihil obstat was granted by Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield on June 21, 2016 to open the grave of Fr. Tolton for the canonical recognition of his remains.

In the presence of Bishops Paprocki and Perry, Catholic Cemeteries for the Diocese of Springfield and the Archdiocese of Chicago exhumed the remains of Fr. Tolton at St. Peter Cemetery in Quincy on December 9 -10, 2016 with the assistance of a medical examiner, forensic and anthropologist specialists. That same month, Fr. Tolton was wrapped within a new set of priestly vestments and reinterred. 

To learn more about Fr. Tolton’s cause for sainthood, visit