SPRINGFIELD, Ill. -- The cause of the Rev. Augustus "Father Gus" Tolton, the nation's first black priest who pastored for three years in the late 1800s in Quincy and is buried in St. Peter's Cemetery, continues to move toward sainthood.
This month, the Theological Consultants of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in Rome approved Tolton's cause for beatification and canonization to move forward.
Tolton's cause now moves to the cardinal and archbishop members of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints -- as well as to Pope Francis -- for their consideration. If Pope Francis agrees that Tolton lived a life of heroic virtue, he would receive the title "venerable."
The archdioceses of Chicago and Springfield in Illinois have been working together on Tolton's cause.
"We hope Father Tolton will be declared ‘venerable' before the end of the year," said the Rev. Daren Zehnle, pastor at St. Augustine Parish in Ashland, and a Quincy native who has helped in the canonization process.
If Tolton were to be declared "venerable," Rome would next investigate a miraculous healing attributable to 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.
"This is a very exciting time," Zehnle said. "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.
"(Tolton's) life is one we should imitate -- one of heroic virtue, humility and gentleness, joined together in the love of God and of neighbor."
Tolton's family members initially found their way from a Kentucky plantation to Brush Creek, Mo., near Monroe City. Tolton was born a slave in 1854 and baptized in Brush Creek.
During the Civil War in 1862, Tolton's mother and siblings escaped across the Mississippi River to the free state of Illinois. After settling in Quincy, Tolton went to St. Peter's Catholic School, then known as St. Lawrence.
After 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 him because of his race. He eventually began 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 arrived to thousands of supporters and celebrated his first Mass in July 1886.
Known for his singing and homilies, Tolton spent several years in Quincy before transferring to Chicago in December 1889. He died of heatstroke at age 43.