'Tolton: From Slave to Priest' to be performed at QU

By Herald-Whig
Posted: Nov. 7, 2017 8:40 am

QUINCY -- Ray Heilmann feels it is a program that will create interest and discussion.

"The more I read about the life of Father Tolton, and what he went through ... to see what he withstood, and how his faith kept (growing), is such a rewarding story," said Heilmann, director of campus ministry at Quincy University and former principal at Quincy Notre Dame High School.

QU will host "Tolton: From Slave to Priest" at 3 p.m. Sunday at Pepsi Arena. Admission is free for the drama, which will run about one hour, 15 minutes, and is suggested for anyone age 10 and older.

The drama examines the life of the Rev. Augustus "Father Gus" Tolton, who had strong ties to Quincy and Northeast Missouri and is under consideration for sainthood, a process that is now in its seventh year.

The one-man show, featuring actor Andrae Goodnight and directed by Leonardo Defilippis, will be brought to Quincy by Saint Luke Productions of Battle Ground, Wash.

Admission is free, and a goodwill offering will be accepted.

The program is being made possible by QU and parishes of the Quincy deanery.

"(The local parishes) are picking up the tab for this because they want everyone to be able to attend," Heilmann said. "We're suggesting this is for those 10 and older. Younger children may have a difficult time understanding some of what will be talked about in terms of the prejudice Father Tolton endured."

Tolton was the first African-American to be ordained a priest in the Roman Catholic Church; that occurred in 1886. Tolton died in Chicago in 1897 at age 43.

Tolton's family initially found its way from a Kentucky plantation to Brush Creek, Mo., near Monroe City. Born a slave, Tolton was baptized in Brush Creek in 1854.

He grew up in Quincy after his mother and siblings escaped from Missouri during the Civil War to the free state of Illinois. As a child, he attended St. Peter School, which at the time was known as St. Lawrence.

Eventually graduating in 1872 from St. Francis College, now known as Quincy University, Tolton wanted to enter the priesthood. But no seminary in America would accept Tolton because of his race. He eventually began his seminary studies in Rome and was ordained there in April 1886.

Although Tolton had hoped to become an African missionary, he was assigned to Quincy, where he celebrated his first Mass in July 1886. He was transferred to Chicago in December 1889.

Tolton is buried in St. Peter Cemetery.

More information about Sunday's show is available by contacting Heilmann at 217-228-5432, ext. 3617, or