Sunday, 03 March 2019 00:38

Quincy’s Father Tolton, the nation’s first black priest, moving closer to sainthood 

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Young ToltonOne of the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois’ own, Father Augustine Tolton, continues to move toward sainthood. The cause for beatification and canonization of Servant of God Father Tolton, the nation’s first black priest — who served and is buried in Quincy — advanced recently in Rome.

On Feb. 5, the theological consultants of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints unanimously approved that his cause move forward.

Following their approval, Father Tolton’s cause now moves to the cardinal and archbishop members of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, as well as to the Holy Father Pope Francis, for their consideration. If Pope Francis agrees that Father Tolton lived a life of heroic virtue, Father Tolton would receive the title “Venerable.” 

“We hope Father Tolton will be declared ‘Venerable’ before the end of the year,” said Father Daren Zehnle, pastor at St. Augustine Parish in Ashland and a Quincy native who has helped in the canonization process. “This is a very exciting time. To have someone from our diocese on the way to sainthood is a source of great joy. His life of long-suffering and perseverance in the face of slavery, prejudice, and hatred is a great witness of faith. His life is one we should imitate — one of heroic virtue, humility and gentleness, joined together in the love of God and of neighbor.”

The Archdiocese of Chicago and the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois have been working together on Father Tolton’s cause.

If Father Tolton were to be declared “Venerable,” Rome would next investigate a miraculous healing, attributable to Father Tolton’s intercession. If that is found to have occurred, he would be declared “Blessed.” Another miracle would make him a saint.  

At least one miracle has already been submitted for review.

A brief look at Father Tolton’s life

Father Augustine Tolton was born into slavery in Missouri in 1854. In 1862, his mother and siblings made a daring escape across the Mississippi River from Hannibal to Illinois. After settling in Quincy, he went to school at St. Peter Catholic School.

Father Tolton later went to seminary school in Rome, because no American seminary would accept a black man. Thinking he would minister in Africa, once he was ordained, he was instead sent back to Quincy, where he arrived to thousands of supporters. Known for his incredible singing and homilies, Father Tolton spent several years in Quincy before transferring to Chicago. He died of heatstroke at the age of 43 and is buried at St. Peter Cemetery in Quincy.