First African American priest being considered for sainthood

Frances Cardinal George of Chicago announced yesterday that he is appointing a commission to gather information about Fr. Augustus Tolton, the first known African-American Catholic priest.

Cardinal George said Tolton’s prayer and assistance can help us be “a more united church.”

Tolton escaped from slavery at the beginning of the Civil War, and was baptized before crossing the Mississippi River into Illinois. He and his siblings became Catholic and their parish priest encouraged him to become a priest. No American seminary would admit a black man, however — he had to travel to Rome to study and be ordained.

According to the Chicago Tribune, Tolton wanted to be a missionary to Africa, but he was sent back to Quincy, where, despite opposition from the town’s white priests, he presided over an integrated congregation. He was eventually asked to start a mission church in Chicago for African-Americans. It began in a basement:

 

That mission became St. Monica’s on the South Side, the city’s first black parish, which was dedicated in 1894. Tolton raised money for the parish building and oversaw its design before dying of a heat stroke in 1897 at age 43. The parish consolidated with St. Elizabeth in 1924.

He died young. It’s nice that he’s finally getting the recognition he deserves (though he wasn’t looking for that, obviously).

Tolton’s grand-niece Sabrina Penn, author of “A Place for My Children,” one of only two biographies about Tolton, said she was thrilled by the recognition.

“Hallelujah,” she said. “To be born into slavery and become a priest and have the honor to be called a saint is just awesome.”

 

Zoe Romanowsky

By

Zoe Romanowsky is writer, consultant, and coach. Her articles have appeared in "Catholic Digest," "Faith & Family," "National Catholic Register," "Our Sunday Visitor," "Urbanite," "Baltimore Eats," and Godspy.com. Zo

Crisis Magazine Comments Policy

This is a Catholic forum. As such:

  1. All comments must directly address the article. “I tell you, on the day of judgment men will render account for every careless word they utter.” (Matthew 12:36)
  2. No profanity, ad hominems, hot tempers, or racial or religious invectives. “And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32)
  3. We will not tolerate heresy, calumny, or attacks upon our Holy Mother Church or Holy Father. “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18)
  4. Keep it brief. No lengthy rants or block quotes. “For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” (James 4:14)
  5. If you see a comment that doesn’t meet our standards, please flag it so a moderator may remove it. “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.” (Galatians 6:1)
  6. All comments may be removed at the moderators’ discretion. “But of that day and hour no one knows…” (Matthew 24:36)
  7. Crisis isn’t responsible for the content of the comments box. Comments do not represent the views of Crisis magazine, its editors, authors, or publishers. “Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God… So each of us shall give account of himself to God.” (Romans 14:10, 12)
MENU