Vote Moves Forward for First African-American Father Augustus Tolton to Sainthood

Father Tolton studied in Rome as no U.S. seminary would take him due to his race.

A nine member Vatican theological commission going by the name of Feast of St. Agatha gave their unanimous vote on February 5 to move forward the canonization of Father Augustus Tolton to the archbishops and cardinals in Congregation for Saints’ Causes. The next step would declare the priest to be “venerable.” The decree of Father Tolton’s “heroic virtues” would be sent to Pope Francis. The pontiff, after due consideration, would approve or deny it. Tolton was a former slave who ran away from his bondage and was recorded as the first African-American priest preaching in the U.S.

The title “venerable” signifies the person concerned has lived all theological virtues related to charity, hope, and faith. The individual also possesses the cardinal virtues like temperance, prudence, fortitude, and justice at a heroic level.

Tolton was born a slave in 1854 in Monroe County, Missouri. He and his family subsequently escaped to the Illinois town of Quincy during the time of Civil War. He went to study priesthood in Rome as no seminary in the United States would take him as a student due to his race. After his ordination in 1886, he served at a Quincy parish for three years. Tolton eventually accepted an invitation to move to Chicago where he led the St. Monica Parish until he died in 1897.

For Father Tolton, the final two steps towards sainthood will be beatification followed by canonization. Each step in the process needs a miracle to be attributed to the candidate nominated for sainthood. A total of two miracles are needed to declare him a saint. If canonized, the priest will be the United States' first African-American saint.

That Tolton should be canonized was first proposed by the late Cardinal Francis George. The priest from Chicago initiated the 19th century African-American priest's canonization cause in March 2010. The priest from Quincy subsequently received the “Servant of God” designation in February 2011. This is the title proclaimed by the Vatican in the beginning of the long process of attaining sainthood. A six member committee of Vatican officials gave their unanimous approval to a document as historically correct known as positio. The document summarized Tolton’s life and virtue. It also documented the priest's alleged miracles as seen and felt in 2018. This positio, dispatched to the Vatican in September 2014 was a result of exhaustive research done in Chicago.

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