The first African American priest could become the first African American saint.
Officials from the Vatican are in the U.S. to investigate possible miracles attributed to the intercession of Venerable Fr. Augustus Tolton. The representatives of the Church have traveled to Quincy, Illinois, where Ft. Tolton was buried. If the team can verify at least one miracle attributed to the saint’s prayers he could be beatified.
Fr. Augustus Tolton
Born into slavery in 1854, Fr. Tolton escaped with his mother and three siblings when he was just a child. The family found passage over the Mississippi river and eventually settled in Quincy, a town of the Free State of Illinois.
In Quincy, Augustus was afforded the opportunity for an education at a small Catholic school run by an Irish Catholic priest, Fr. Peter McGirr. As his education advanced, Augustus began discerning a vocation as a priest, but he was rejected by all American seminaries based on his race. Fr. McGirr eventually secured him a spot in a Roman seminary, where he was ordained in 1886.
As a priest, he was assigned back to America, where he would serve Black Catholic communities throughout his ministry. One of his greatest accomplishments was to establish St. Monica’s Church in Chicago. The parish would quickly grow to be 850 congregants strong, and catered to Black communities as no other parish of the 19th century did.
Fr. Tolton was a pivotal member of society, who became well known for eloquent sermons and a beautiful singing voice. He forged bonds with Jesuits and religious personalities of the day; in fact some of the funding for St. Monicas came from St. Katherine Drexel. He was so respected in his field that he was even invited to celebrate Mass before the U.S. Congress.
Fr. Tolton died in Chicago’s Mercy Hospital at the age of 43, the day after experiencing a heat stroke. At his request, his remains were brought to Quincy, where he was buried at a widely attended funeral.
Cause for sainthood
On its website, The Archdiocese of Chicago is tracking the advancement of Fr. Tolton’s cause. In 2016, Fr. Tolton’s remains were exhumed by Vatican representatives for examination and verification. Three years later, Pope Francis declared that he had lived a life of heroic virtue and named him “Venerable Augustus Tolton.”
The next step towards sainthood is beatification, which would require the verification of at least one miracle. According to Catholic News Service, at the time of his exhumation, there were two possible miracles attributed to the intercession of Venerable Augustus Tolton. Since then however, more testimonies have emerged. CNS reports comments from Bishop Joseph Perry:
“We received about 50 some testimonials of people from all over the country testifying to favors from God through (Father) Tolton’s intercession. Remarkable things — everything from needed employment to illness in the family to all kinds of problems.” The prelate added, “These people are really just excited about their prayers being answered because of him. He’s been pretty active up there, I think. He probably needs a secretary up there to handle all that has been put on his lap.”
Vatican officials have yet to conclude their investigation in Quincy and they have made no comments as to the veracity of miraculous claims. If one is found to be genuine, Fr. Tolton may soon be beatified, but a second miracle will need to be attributed to his intercession before he can be canonized a saint.