Father Augustine Tolton


QUINCY — Quincy will host a pilgrimage procession on Friday to commemorate the 124th anniversary of the death of Father Augustine Tolton, the first recognized priest in the United States who was Black.

In June 2019, Pope Francis declared Tolton as “Venerable,” the second of four steps on the path to sainthood in the Catholic Church. Recognized fully as the Venerable Servant of God Father Augustine Tolton, Friday’s commemoration marks the day in 1897 when Tolton died of heatstroke at the age of 43.

The one-mile pilgrimage procession will begin at 5:30 p.m. at the statue of Father Tolton outside of St. Peter Catholic School, 2500 Maine St. After a brief welcome ceremony, the procession will head east along Maine Street to 33rd Street, then north to the St. Peter Cemetery, where Tolton is buried.

Once in the cemetery, the celebration of Evening Prayer at 6 p.m. will be held at the grave of Father Tolton, led by Father Daren Zehnle from St. Augustine Parish in Ashland, Ill.

Augustine Tolton was born into slavery in 1854. In 1862, he, his mother, and his siblings escaped across the Mississippi River into Illinois. Tolton traveled to Rome to attend seminary because no American school would accept a black man. Expecting to be sent as a minister to Africa, Tolton instead was sent back to Quincy for several years before transferring to Chicago.

The commemoration will conclude with a prayer for an end to racism and for more priests through Father Tolton’s intercession, as well a for the canonization of Tolton. The evening will close with the singing of Tolton’s favorite hymn, “Holy God, We Praise Thy Name.”

Water and chairs will be provided at the cemetery. Anyone wishing to attend the services without walking in the procession are invited to park near the cemetery, but organizers are asking that no one park in the cemetery itself due to limited space.

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