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Feast of Augustus Tolton (July 10)   Leave a comment

Above:  Father Augustus Tolton

Image in the Public Domain

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AUGUSTUS TOLTON (1854-JULY 9, 1897)

Pioneering African-American Roman Catholic Priest in the United States of America

Father Augustus Tolton comes to my Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days via Robert Ellsberg, author of All Saints:  Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time (1997), where the priest’s feast day is July 9.

Tolton, born a slave in Ralls County, Missiouri, in 1854, was a cradle Catholic.  His parents were Martha and Peter Paul Tolton, slaves on neighboring plantations.  The couple had three children (of which Augustus was the middle one), all baptized in the faith.  The parents escaped from slavery during the Civil War, in which Peter Paul fought and died as a soldier in the U.S. Army.  Martha and the children settled at Quincy, Illinois.

Our saint was on this earth to be a priest.  He was fine and capable one, too.  Tolton discerned his vocation while a boy.  The family’s parish priest arranged for tutoring for Tolton, for finding a seminary willing to accept him was difficult.  Our saint studied formally at Quincy College (1878-1880) then at Urban College, Rome, before becoming a priest in 1886, at the age of 32 years.  Tolton left Italy and returned to the United States.  He had expected the Church to send him to Africa as a missionary.

Tolton was the fourth African-American Roman Catholic priest in the United States of America.  The first three were the Georgia-born Healy brothers (James Augustine, Patrick Francis, and Alexander Sherwood), sons of an Irish immigrant slave owner and his slave mistress.  James Augustine Healy (1830-1900), ordained in 1854, rose to the post of Bishop of Portland, Maine.  The Healy brothers, being light-skinned, passed as white men.  Their mixed-race heritage was a closely-guarded secret in the Roman Catholic Church.  Tolton was unmistakably African-American, though.

Tolton’s eleven-year-long ministry was historic and difficult.  He struggled against racism in American society and in the Roman Catholic Church in the U.S.A., for he favored racial integration, a radical idea in the late 1800s.  Tolton was an effective and popular priest–first at St. Joseph’s Church, Quincy, Illinois, with its integrated yet majority African-American membership.  In 1889 Tolton transferred to St. Augustine’s Church (later renamed St. Monica’s Church), Chicago, Illinois.  St. Katharine Drexel and others contributed to the fund for the construction of the new building of St. Monica’s Church, completed in 1893.  Tolton also struggled with poverty, failing health, a sense of futility, and apathy from much of the U.S. Roman Catholic establishment.

Tolton died in Chicago on July 9, 1897.  He was about 43 years old.

The cause for the eventual canonization of Tolton has been open since 2011.  In 2012 the Roman Catholic Church declared our saint to be a Servant of God.

Holy Mother Church will move at her pace.  I move at mine.  Tolton is a saint.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 10, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE ASCENSION

THE FEAST OF SAINT ENRICO RUBUSCHINI, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND SERVANT OF THE SICK; AND HIS MENTOR, SAINT LUIGI GUANELLA, FOUNDER OF THE DAUGHTERS OF SAINT MARY OF PROVIDENCE, THE SERVANTS OF CHARITY, AND THE CONFRATERNITY OF SAINT JOSEPH

THE FEAST OF ANNA LAETITIA WARING, HUMANITARIAN AND HYMN WRITER; AND HER UNCLE, SAMUEL MILLER WARING, HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT IVAN MERZ, CROATIAN ROMAN CATHOLIC INTELLECTUAL

THE FEAST OF JOHN GOSS, ANGLICAN CHURCH COMPOSER AND ORGANIST; AND WILLIAM MERCER, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN TRANSLATOR

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Almighty God, we praise you for your servant Augustus Tolton,

through whom you have called the church to its tasks and renewed its life.

Raise up in our own day teachers and prophets inspired by your Spirit,

whose voices will give strength to your church and proclaim the reality of your reign,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Jeremiah 1:4-10

Psalm 46

1 Corinthians 3:11-23

Mark 10:35-45

–Adapted from Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), 60

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