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Two Archdiocese of Chicago Parishes to Establish the Tolton Spirituality Center with Support from $1 Million Lilly Endowment Grant

Chicago - (Dec. 2, 2020) - St. Thomas the Apostle Parish, in Chicago, with the help of a $1 million grant from Lilly Endowment Inc., will establish the Tolton Spirituality Center, a non-profit clearinghouse and community hub to build upon the life and legacy of Venerable Augustus Tolton – a former slave and first black priest in the United States. St. Ambrose Parish, also in Chicago, will collaborate on the project.

The effort is funded through Lilly Endowment’s Thriving Congregations Initiative, a national initiative to strengthen Christian congregations to help people deepen their relationships with God, build strong relationships with each other and contribute to the flourishing of local communities and the world.

“We are quite pleased that Lilly Endowment saw value in this dream of local lay Catholics to assist participating parishes in drawing upon the inspiration of Fr. Augustus Tolton with his efforts to build a thriving parish among black Catholics in 1890s Chicago, St. Monica Church of 36th Dearborn Street,” said Chicago Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Perry, postulator of Tolton’s canonization cause. “We look forward to the next several years of programming with Fr. Tolton’s blessing.”

Through the formation of parish-based leadership teams, supported by community partners, the Tolton Spirituality Center will strengthen existing efforts and develop new programs and ministries to animate the tangible gifts and prophetic witness of Fr. Tolton. Working as a model, this collaborative learning journey will provide the education and practical resources to help those congregations who accept the invitation to participate and learn how to apply the fundamental principles of Fr. Tolton’s spirituality to build a more sustainable and mission-focused Church.

Lilly Endowment is making nearly $93 million in grants through the initiative. The grants will support organizations as they work directly with congregations and help them gain clarity about their values and missions, explore and understand better the communities in which they serve, and draw upon their theological traditions as they adapt ministries to meet changing needs.

The Lilly grant is separate from Tolton’s cause for canonization.

St. Thomas the Apostle Parish is one of 92 organizations across the nation receiving grants through the Thriving Congregations Initiative. The organizations represent and serve churches in a broad spectrum of Christian traditions, including Anabaptist, Baptist, Episcopal, evangelical, Lutheran, Methodist, Mennonite, Pentecostal, Presbyterian, Reformed, Restoration, Roman Catholic and Orthodox, as well as congregations that describe themselves as nondenominational. Several organizations serve congregations in Black, Hispanic and Asian-American traditions.

“In the midst of a rapidly changing world, Christian congregations are grappling with how they can best carry forward their ministries,” said Christopher Coble, Lilly Endowment’s vice president for religion. “These grants will help congregations assess their ministries and draw on

practices in their theological traditions to address new challenges and better nurture the spiritual vitality of the people they serve.”  

Lilly Endowment launched the Thriving Congregations Initiative in 2019 as part of its commitment to support efforts that enhance the vitality of Christian congregations.

About Lilly Endowment Inc.

Lilly Endowment Inc. is an Indianapolis-based private philanthropic foundation created in 1937 by J.K. Lilly Sr. and sons Eli and J.K. Jr. through gifts of stock in their pharmaceutical business, Eli Lilly & Company. Although the gifts of stock remain a financial bedrock of the Endowment, it is a separate entity from the company, with a distinct governing board, staff and location. In keeping with the founders’ wishes, the Endowment exists to support the causes of religion, education and community development. The Endowment funds significant programs throughout the United States, especially in the field of religion. However, it maintains a special commitment to its hometown, Indianapolis and home state, Indiana. The principal aim of the Endowment’s grantmaking in religion is to deepen and enrich the lives of Christians in the United States, primarily by seeking out and supporting efforts that enhance the vitality of congregations and strengthen their pastoral and lay leadership.