Priest one step closer to being first black American saint

Priest one step closer to being first black American saint Fr Augustus Tolton

Fr Augustus Tolton advanced along the path to sainthood today making the runaway slave-turned-priest one step closer to being the first black American saint.

Pope Francis recognised the heroic virtue of Fr Tolton on June 12 making him “venerable” within the Church, only two steps away from canonisation. With the decree, Catholics are now authorised to pray directly to Fr Tolton as an intercessor before God.

Venerable John Augustus Tolton was born into slavery in Monroe County, Missouri in 1854. He escaped slavery with his family during the Civil War by crossing the Mississippi River into Illinois.

“John, boy, you’re free. Never forget the goodness of the Lord,” Fr Tolton’s mother reportedly told him after the crossing.

The young Fr Tolton entered St Peter’s Catholic School in Quincy, Illinois with the help of the school’s pastor, Fr Peter McGirr. The priest went on to baptise Fr Tolton, instruct him for his first Holy Communion, and recognise his vocation to the priesthood.

No American seminary would accept Fr Tolton because of his race, so he studied for the priesthood in Rome. However, when Fr Tolton returned to the US after his ordination in 1889, thousands of people lined the streets to greet him. A brass band played hymns and Negro Spirituals, and black and white people processed together into the local church.

Fr Tolton was the first African American to be ordained a priest. He served for three years at a parish in Quincy, before moving to Chicago to start a parish for black Catholics, St Monica Parish, where he remained until his death in 1897.

The Congregation for the Causes of Saints also recognised the heroic virtue of six other new “Venerables” on June 12. Five Italians: Fr Enzo Boschetti, Brother Felice Tantardini, layman Giovanni Nadiani, and Mother Maria Paola Muzzeddu.

The Filipino foundress of the Dominican Sisters of the Holy Rosary of the Philippines, Maria Rosario of the Visitation, was also declared venerable, and the martyrdom of Servants of God Maria Colón Gullón Yturriaga and two companions was recognised. Yturriaga and her companions were laypeople killed for their faith in Somiedo, Spain, in 1936.

After two miracles through their particular intercession are verified by the Vatican, Fr Tolton and the other new venerables can be declared saints.


Catholic News Agency