‘Tolton: From Slave to Priest’ has started touring again after over a year of pandemic downtime.
A one-man show that retells the life of Venerable Fr. Augustus Tolton is picking up where it left off before the pandemic. The show, Tolton: From Slave to Priest, has resumed touring, and the stage production has been filmed for an upcoming release.
Since opening in 2017, the show has been faithfully spreading the story of America’s first Black Catholic priest. The biographical play follows Fr. Tolton’s life from his escape from slavery to his ordination and work as a priest. Fr. Tolton’s efforts saw the founding a Black Catholic school in his hometown of Quincy and the first Black parish in Chicago.
The driving force of this production is the acting talent of Jim Coleman. He plays Fr. Tolton from his childhood until his death from heatstroke in 1897. In an interview in Black Catholic Messenger, Coleman explained that he immediately felt a connection with Fr. Tolton’s story:
“The biggest thing for me was that he had a praying mother. She was like my mother and my mother’s mother. I related to a great degree,” he told BCM, adding, “Through all the adversity, the war of racism back then when they escaped from slavery, and the war we still encounter … He went through it way back then and persevered.”
Saint Luke Productions
Tolton: From Slave to Priest wouldn’t have been possible without the devotion of Leonardo Defilippis, founder of Saint Luke Productions. SLP has a wide collection of audio and video features on the Gospels and the lives of Catholic saints. Their minimalistic stage performances illuminate the real stories of some of the greatest Catholic figures.
Defilippis explained to BCM that he was inspired by Fr. Tolton’s story after reading his biography. Defilippis soon developed a devotion to the venerable priest that led him to display a picture of Fr. Tolton in his home. One day, while looking at the image, he felt called to produce the play. He said:
“I looked up and saw the picture of Tolton, and he kept staring at me,” Defilippis said, “And then—in a shock to the everybody here [at SLP], who didn’t know too much about him—I just decided the Holy Spirit was saying ‘You’re going to do Tolton.’”
The show relaunched after pandemic down-time in July 2021, with shows in Washington and Portland. The current tour is making stops in Connecticut, Michigan and Ohio, with the possibility of taking it abroad to Brazil and Rome. This reach, however, will pale in comparison to the upcoming feature film, which will make Fr. Tolton’s story more broadly available to the world.
Visit Saint Luke Productions to learn more about Tolton: From Slave to Priest, and to get all the updates on the upcoming movie version.