QUINCY — Trying to figure out a way to disguise nine metal plates that were put into a brick wall at the parking lot at the Church of St. Peter in Quincy, Msgr. Leo Enlow, pastor, had one of those moments you could only describe as providential.
“After much thought and prayer, it came to me to have a display of Venerable Father Augustine Tolton’s life since he was a member of our parish,” Msgr. Enlow said. “So, I was looking around for an artist and one of our parishioners, Tim Haubrich, who runs PAM printers and Sunday Missal Service (in Quincy), was interested in researching and using his talents to bring to life Father Tolton’s life.”
Msgr. Enlow and Haubrich then went to work, with Msgr. Enlow deciding what about Father Tolton’s life to highlight and Haubrich using his artistic talents to capture those moments. What the two came up with are beautiful images showcasing a life of a holy man, a true witness to our Catholic faith, and a dedicated servant of God. With the nine pictures done, Gem City Memorials will now etch the images on black marble panels so they can be displayed on that outside brick wall for years on end.
“Art is my life, I just really enjoy doing that kind of work,” Haubrich said. “When everything is finished, I hope people get a sense of history and pride for our parish.”
Gem City Memorials is also donating one panel and the costs of the other panels are already covered, showing Catholics in Quincy, our diocese, and around the world who know and admire the life of Father Tolton are excited about the prospects of him being declared “Blessed” and then a “Saint” soon by the Catholic Church.
“This will be our special gift to a former member of our parish and to highlight his canonization,” Msgr. Enlow said. “I envision people visiting our parish not only to see the statue of Father Tolton but also to see a display in marble of his life. It will be lighted and on display. I also wanted to do this for Father Roy Bauer (author of They Called Him Father Gus) who was a major supporter and promoter of his cause to sainthood.”
The last panel that will be on display is a quote from Father Tolton, taken during a speech he gave in 1889 to the First Catholic Colored Congress in Washington, D.C.:
“The Catholic Church deplores double slavery — that of the mind and that of the body,” Father Tolton said. “She endeavors to free us of both … I must now give praise to that son of the Emerald Isle, Father Peter McGirr, who promised me that I would be educated (at St. Peter’s School), and he kept his word. It was the priests of the Church who taught me to pray and to forgive my persecutors. When I was admitted to the College of the Propaganda, I found out that I was not the only black man there. There were students from Africa, China, Japan, and other parts of the world. The Church which knows and makes no distinction in race and color had called them all. When the Church does this, is she not a true liberator of the race?”
Msgr. Enlow doesn’t know yet when the project will be completed, but the marble panels have already been ordered.
Father Tolton was born into slavery in 1854. In 1862, his mother and siblings made a daring escape across the Mississippi River to Illinois. After settling in Quincy, he went to school at St. Peter’s 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 on July 9, 1897 and is buried at St. Peter’s Cemetery in Quincy. Pope Francis declared him “Venerable” on June 12, 2019, the second step of four to becoming a saint in the Catholic Church.