Chicago's Father Augustus Tolton -- from slave to saint?

Chicago's Father Augustus Tolton --  from slave to saint?
Father Augustus Tolton

Dedicated to James, who prays fervently for Father Augustus Tolton to be elevated to Sainthood


   “Notice James,” my friend, Michelle,  said.  I looked over to see a dignified man, standing straight and tall, who was lost in prayer, his lips moving silently.  I noticed that after Mass, James went to a portrait of Father Augustus Tolton, and prayed again, silently, on his knees. Every so often, James asks the congregation that his intention of Father Tolton becoming a canonized saint by the Catholic Church be granted by God.

Tolton’s mother was a slave who eventually escaped to Quincy, Illinois, where Tolton was born, in 1853.  Tolton first attended St. Boniface School in Quincy but was forced to withdraw a month after starting because the staff and parish were being harassed because of his presence.  He transferred to St.  Peter School, also in Quincy, and graduated at 18.

     Tolton then was ordained a priest in Rome.  He expected to be sent to Africa as a missionary priest but was sent back to Quincy to serve.

     In 1886, Father Tolton began his mission in Chicago and opened a storefront church, St. Monica’s, at 2200 S. Indiana Ave.  In 1894, St. Monica’s Church was dedicated at 36th Street and Dearborn Ave, as reported by the Chicago Tribune then.   The historical address is 18 – 36th, Chicago, 60609.

     Tolton began to be plagued by “spells of illness” in 1893. Because of them, he was forced to take a temporary leave of absence from his duties at St. Monica’s Parish in 1895.

     At the age of 43, on July 8, 1897, he collapsed.  He died the following day at Mercy Hospital. His death was attributed to a heat wave baking Chicago in that year.   After a funeral which included 100 priests, Tolton was buried in Quincy in the priests’ lot in St. Peter’s Cemetery, which had been his expressed wish.

     After Tolton’s death, St. Monica’s was made a mission of St. Elizabeth’s Church. In 1924 it was closed as a national parish, as black Catholics chose to attend parish churches in their own neighborhoods.

In 2011, the late Cardinal Francis George opened an inquiry into Tolton’s beatification and eventual sainthood:

Cause of the Beatification and Canonization of
Father August Tolton

In accordance with article 43 of the 2007 Instruction of the Congregation for Causes of Saints, Sanctorum Mater, I, the undersigned Ordinary of the Archdiocese of Chicago, declare that I have received and accepted the petition for the Cause of beatification and canonization of the Servant of God, Father Augustus Tolton [1854-1897].

Therefore, the Cause having been officially opened during the formal hearing held at St. James Chapel at the Archdiocesan Pastoral Center, on this the 24th day of February, 2011, I am directing the assigned personnel of the ecclesiastical tribunal to carry out all necessary steps to instruct the diocesan phase of the Cause, inclusive of hearing witnesses regarding Tolton’s virtues and reputation of holiness. In addition, I encourage all those who can give testimony, even should they have negative proof, to come forward and contact the aforementioned tribunal. Moreover, those who possess writings of any kind or any other information regarding the Father Tolton are urged to put that at the tribunal’s disposition.

All things henceforth serving the honor of God,

Given at Chicago, Illinois
the 24th day of February 2011
/s/ Francis Cardinal George, OMI
Archbishop of Chicago

Augustus Tolton is not a saint yet in the official process of the Catholic Church, but those who have studied him are fairly confident that he achieved that status even in his earthly life.  Tolton was a slave to men and then, as a free man made a choice to be a slave to God.

If anybody has a testimony, come forward.



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