Who Is Father Tolton, and Can He Help Cardinal George?

Who was Father Augustus Tolton?

  • He was the son of poor slaves in the South.
  • He was refused admission to seminary in the United States because of his color, and finally resorted to studying for the priesthood in Rome.
  • He was ordained in 1886, and was believed to be the first black priest in the nation.
  • He first served in the Diocese of Springfield but came to Chicago where he founded St. Monica’s, a black “national parish church” on Chicago’s South Side.
  • He died of heatstroke at the age of 43.

On March 2, 2010, Cardinal Francis George, Archbishop of Chicago, announced that he was beginning an official investigation into Father Augustus Tolton’s life and virtues, with a view to opening the Cause for his canonization.  The following year—on February 24, 2011—the Roman Catholic Church officially began the formal introduction of the Cause for sainthood of Father Tolton.  He is now designated Servant of God; and Historical and Theological Commissions have been established, with the responsibility for investigating his life and teachings.

Bishop Joseph N. Perry auxiliary bishop of Chicago and Diocesan Postulator for the Cause of Augustus Tolton, has said of him,

“Tolton’s story is one of carving out one’s humanity as a man and as a priest in an atmosphere of racial volatility. His was a fundamental and pervasive struggle to be recognized, welcomed and accepted. He rises wonderfully as a Christ-figure, never uttering a harsh word about anyone or anything while being thrown one disappointment after another. He persevered among us when there was no logical reason to do so.”

And now, six years after undergoing surgery for bladder cancer, Cardinal George again faces chemotherapy for the recurrent cancer which has this time invaded his liver and kidney.

As Cardinal George faces this new challenge, the Auxiliary Bishops of the Archdiocese of Chicago have invited the faithful to pray, asking for Father Tolton’s intercession specifically for the intention of Cardinal George’s health and healing as he undergoes chemotherapy during the next four months.

Prayer to Father Augustus Tolton

O God,
we give you thanks for your servant and priest, Father Augustus Tolton,
who labored among us in times of contradiction,
times that were both beautiful and paradoxical.
His ministry helped lay the foundation for a truly Catholic gathering in faith in our time.
We stand in the shadow of his ministry.
May his life continue to inspire us
and imbue us with that confidence and hope
that will forge a new evangelization for the Church we love.

Father in Heaven,
Father Tolton’s suffering service sheds light upon our sorrows;
we see them through the prism of your Son’s passion and death.
If it be your Will, O God,
glorify your servant, Father Tolton,
by granting the favor I now request through his intercession
(mention your request)
so that all may know the goodness of this priest
whose memory looms large in the Church he loved.

Complete what you have begun in us
that we might work for the fulfillment of your kingdom.
Not to us the glory,
but glory to you O God, through Jesus Christ, your Son
and our Lord;
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
you are our God, living and reigning forever and ever. Amen

You can let Cardinal George know of your prayers on his behalf.  Messages and cards can be mailed to the Cardinal at this address:

Francis Cardinal George, OMI
Archbishop of Chicago
835 North Rush Street
Chicago, Illinois  60611

“The Catholic Church deplores double slavery—that of the mind and that of the body.  She endeavors to free us of both.  I was a poor slave boy, but the priests of the Church did not disdain me.  It was through the influence of one of them that I became what I am tonight.”

Father Augustus Tolton
From a speech given at the
First Black Catholic Congress
Washington, D.C.  1889