Herald-Whig View

Father Tolton's cause for sainthood progresses

Posted: Feb. 18, 2019 10:00 am

CANONIZATION efforts moved forward earlier this month for the Rev. Augustus Tolton, the nation's first black priest -- who found both acceptance and resistance in Quincy during the late 1800s.

The cause of sainthood for Tolton, who was a Catholic priest in Quincy for three years in the 1880s and is buried here, was moved forward this month by the Theological Consultants and Congregation for the Causes of the Saints in Rome. Now the cardinals and archbishops in the Congregation for the Cause of Saints, as well as Pope Francis, will begin their examination of Tolton's life.

"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 told The Herald-Whig. "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."

Born in 1854, Tolton, his mother and siblings escaped from a slaveholder in Ralls County, Mo., in 1862, crossed the Mississippi River and reached Quincy, where there was a measure of safety during the Civil War. Quincy was known for its abolitionist movement, and Tolton was accepted at St. Peter School and later at the precursor of Quincy University.

Unable to attend an American seminary because of his race, Tolton finished his religious studies through the Urban College of Rome and was ordained there.

Upon his return to Quincy on July 17, 1886, reports indicated that hundreds of Quincyans welcomed him home. Yet another Quincy priest used racial slurs from the pulpit to attack and belittle the black priest.

At his own request, Tolton was reassigned in 1889 to a church in Chicago. It was there that Tolton died of heat stroke at age 43, on July 9, 1897. His body was brought back to Quincy for burial.

Tolton was welcomed, nurtured and educated in Quincy starting more than 150 years ago. His stature as a man of God already has been established in this region.

It would be good to see this humble man, who broke down barriers, celebrated as a saint.