Remembering First US Black Catholic Priest, Fr. Augustus ToltonJul 13, 2023 10:00AM ● By Anand Subramanian
Image of Fr. Augustus Tolton in 1887. Public Domain
In the annals of American history, there are certain figures whose lives and legacies transcend time, challenging societal norms and leaving an indelible mark on the hearts and minds of people. Reverend Fr. Augustus Tolton, the first recognized African American Catholic priest, is one such individual. His journey from slavery to priesthood and his unwavering commitment to his faith continue to inspire generations, highlighting the resilience of the human spirit and the power of unwavering belief.
Augustus Tolton was born into slavery in Brush Creek, Missouri, on April 1, 1854. His parents, Peter Paul and Martha Jane Tolton, were baptized Catholics who had been granted permission to marry by the neighboring Catholic families who owned them.
Photograph of Fr. Tolton. Public Domain
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Augustus's early life was marked by hardship. His father died fighting for the Union Army during the Civil War, and his mother was forced to flee with her three children to freedom in Illinois. They settled in Quincy, where Augustus attended St. Boniface Catholic School. Augustus was a bright and devout child, and he soon showed a calling to the priesthood. However, he faced many obstacles because of his race. At the time, there were no seminaries in the United States that would admit Black students. Undaunted, Augustus traveled to Rome to study for the priesthood. He was ordained on April 24, 1886, at the age of 31.
He was the first African-American priest in the United States. After his ordination, Fr. Tolton returned to the United States to minister to the Black community. He served as pastor of St. Joseph's Church in Quincy, and he also founded a school for Black children.
Photograph of Father John E. Burke, the first pastor of St. Benedict the Moor Church in Manhattan, and Father Augustus Tolton, before 1898. Public Domain
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Fr. Tolton was a tireless advocate for the rights of African Americans. He spoke out against racism and segregation, and he worked to improve the lives of Black Catholics. He was a role model for many, and he helped to pave the way for other African Americans to enter the priesthood. Fr. Tolton died on July 9, 1897, at the age of 43. He was a pioneer in the Catholic Church, and he is remembered as a man of great faith and courage. In 2019, Pope Francis declared Fr. Tolton "venerable," a step on the path to sainthood. His cause for canonization is ongoing. Fr. Tolton's legacy continues to inspire people around the world. He is a reminder that God calls us all to serve, regardless of our race or ethnicity. He is a hero to African Americans and Catholics alike, and his story is a testament to the power of faith and hope.
Fr. Tolton's legacy is one of courage, determination, and faith. He overcame many obstacles to become the first African-American priest in the United States. He was a role model for many, and he helped to pave the way for other African Americans to enter the priesthood.
Fr. Tolton's story is an inspiration to people of all races and backgrounds. He shows us that we can overcome any obstacle if we have faith in God and in ourselves. He is a reminder that we are all called to serve, regardless of our race or ethnicity.
Fr. Augustus Tolton was a remarkable man who made a significant contribution to the Catholic Church and to the African-American community. His story is an inspiration to people of all races and backgrounds. He is a model of faith, courage, and determination. We can all learn from his example.
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Anand Subramanian is a freelance photographer and content writer based out of Tamil Nadu, India. Having a background in Engineering always made him curious about life on the other side of the spectrum. He leapt forward towards the Photography life and never looked back. Specializing in Documentary and Portrait photography gave him an up-close and personal view into the complexities of human beings and those experiences helped him branch out from visual to words. Today he is mentoring passionate photographers and writing about the different dimensions of the art world.
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