First Black Catholic Priest On Path To Sainthood

Augustus Tolton Went From Slave To Priest

Augustus Tolton’s position in the Roman Catholic Church was anything but typical, and it appears as though the priest’s achievements might not be finished.

Augustus Tolton (1854-1897) is renowned throughout the United States of America for his role in becoming the first black priest to be ordained in the nation. In recent years, Cardinal George of Chicago from the Catholic Church has taken up the cause of researching Tolton’s life to put his name forth for canonization.

The first step on the path to sainthood was cleared in 2011 when the Roman Catholic Church declared him Servant of God, Father Augustus Tolton. Now, Tolton’s cause faces the challenge of becoming granted the title, venerable, which requires the direct approval of the pope. Given the dedication of Tolton to the cause of Christianity and the tremendous odds that he overcame, many in the church believe that he will meet the requirements to reach sainthood in the future. 

Before Augustus Tolton became the first recognized black priest in the Roman Catholic Church,  he faced a difficult life in his formative years. Like many others during the time surrounding his birth, Tolton was born into a life of slavery. However, his family was able to break free from the bonds of slavery and managed to escape from Missouri to Illinois. Tolton’s mother, the architect of their escape, was also the person who introduced young Augustus to the Catholic faith. 

Years later, after a decade of hard work to graduate high school and Quincy College, Augustus Tolton pursued his ecclesiastical studies in Rome where he could freely study as a black man. Using the same fierce determination that he gained as a runaway slave, Tolton was eventually ordained in 1884 and returned to the United States to a cheering crowd.  

Never one to merely rest on his laurels, the hardworking priest began to work in Quincy, Illinois. Eventually, he went on to serve the Church in Chicago, starting a Catholic parish for black Catholics so he could inspire faith in a community which needed his guidance the most. After another decade of service, Tolton, unfortunately, passed away in 1897 after suffering from heat stroke. His death resonated throughout the local community as well as the Church, where he left an impression so profoundly that his consideration for sainthood is being pressed. While he has reached the first step of the long process towards sainthood, he must achieve the status of “Venerable” and then also have a miracle through his intercession approve by the Church. 

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