Thirty miles walking. One day. From Brush Creek in Missouri to Quincy in Illinois. Six students from Quincy University (QU). All friends. A pilgrimage walk to honor the nation’s first black priest, Venerable Father Augustine Tolton.
The pilgrimage started on May 6. Jesse Mose, David Spillman, Jake Terry, Matt Stefan, Joe Siemers, and Logan Klitzing went to Brush Creek, the birthplace of Father Tolton, where Father Zach Edgar of our diocese offered Mass at St. Peter’s Catholic Church there. After spending the night camping, the group laced up their shoes and started their walk to Quincy, an “imitation of the trail Father Tolton would have taken to Quincy,” says Mose.
“The 30-mile walk was rough,” Mose said. “The first 15 miles from Brush Creek to Hannibal went fairly well until we got to Hannibal when I told the guys we had about 12 minutes more of walking, only to find myself rechecking Google maps and realizing we had 40 minutes more walking until we reached a car we parked there (in Hannibal). After resting for an hour, the last 15 miles to Quincy was a struggle for me. But at that private Mass held for us at St. Peter’s Catholic Church, Father Edgar told us in his homily that a pilgrimage can be done in atonement for sins, for a special intention, or for a friend or family. This ultimately helped me to keep walking and realize that the pain in my legs and feet were meant for something more important than proving I can walk 30 miles over rough terrain.”
“I definitely felt prayer keeping me going,” Mose said.
Arriving near dusk, the QU students finished their pilgrimage in prayer at Father Tolton’s grave at St. Peter’s Cemetery in Quincy.
“I hope our pilgrimage will in some way inspire others to find creative and meaningful ways to further live out their faith,” Mose said.
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. 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, 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.