Augustus Tolton, First African American Priest In U.S., Is One Step Closer to Becoming a Saint More Than Century After His Death


The first African American priest in the US is one step closer to becoming a saint.

Father Augustus Tolton, who served in Illinois in the late 1800s, was exhumed from St. Peter’s Cemetery in Quincy on Saturday as part of the long process of being canonized.

Tolton was born in 1854 as a slave in Missouri before his family escaped to Illinois. He went on to study in Rome because he was rejected from seminary schools in the US for being black, according to the Father Tolton Guild.

When Tolton was 10, he and his family settled in Quincy after they escaped through the Underground Railroad, according to the Father Tolton Guild.

He worked at a tobacco factory and went on to enroll in a local Catholic school, where he expressed his interest in becoming a priest.

While seminaries in the US would not accept him on the condition of his skin color, Tolton received the support of several members of the church and they arranged for him to study at the Propaganda Seminary in Rome.

He intended to become a missionary in Africa, but instead returned to the US, where he offered his first Mass in New York City to a largely black congregation.

Tolton eventually returned to Quincy with great fanfare, and served as a pastor at St. Joseph Church for three and a half years before moving to Chicago.

Tolton eventually died in 1897 at the age of 43. He was submitted as a candidate for sainthood more than a century later by the late Cardinal Francis George in 2010.

But the process of being canonized is a convoluted one, and the Vatican now needs to confirm if Tolton performed three miracles.

The process starts with waiting at least five years after their death, which, in Tolton’s case, was not an issue.

The person up for sainthood then has to pass several stages, during which he or she is granted titles like ‘servant of God’ or ‘venerable’.

To reach the stage of beatification, the Vatican needs to verify that the person performed a miracle, before the process of canonization begins.

SOURCE: The Associated Press