170th Anniversary of Fr. Tolton’s Birth!

170th Anniversary of Fr. Tolton’s Birth!

April 1, 2024 0 By BLACKCATHOLIC

On April 1 we celebrated 170th Anniversary of the birth of Venerable Fr. Augustus Tolton,the first recognized African American Catholic priest in US history. A true pioneer of black history, American history, and Church history all in one.

Born into slavery in Missouri on April 1, 1854, and was baptized Catholic. He escaped slavery with the rest of his family at the breakout of the Civil War when he was still a child and ran away to Illinois, a free state.Tolton later felt called to the priesthood, but faced much opposition and no American seminary would accepted him.With help from an Irish Franciscan priest, Peter McGirr, he was accepted to study in Rome.

He was ordained on April 24, 1886, and sent back to the United States. He first ministered to Black Catholics in Quincy, Illinois and was later transferred to Chicago where he continued to minister to Black Catholics for the rest of his ministry.He faced both racial opposition and triumph over the. course of his priesthood.He died at the age of 43 on July 9, 1897 after collapsing the previous day upon returning from a priests retreat during heat wave that swept the city that year.

On February 24, 2011 his cause was opened by the Archdiocese of Chicago making him a Servant of God, the first step towards canonization.

On June 12, 2019, Tolton was declared Venerable by Pope Francis I, the second step towards canonization.

The Black community knows very well of MLK, Malcolm X, Fred Douglass, Tubman, and many others, but how many know about Tolton? I doubt many. To my memory, I had absolutely no idea about him till after I became Catholic. His story should join the litany of other Black lives that speak from history to give us a hope and a future. I think many in my community would be proud to know about him. Even more broadly than that, I think that all Americans would be proud to know about him as well given the fact the he is the US’s first Black priest. His life is very important to our history as a nation.

So Happy Birthday to a real OG, Father Tolton!

Featured image: Public Domain