A virtual gathering on Friday, July 8th will celebrate the legacy of Venerable Augustus Tolton, the world’s first openly Black Catholic priest.
The event, announced last month, is being sponsored by Tolton's official canonization guild and will come one day before his feast, this year marking the 125th anniversary of his death.
The diocesan postulator for the cause, Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Perry of Chicago, will lead the event alongside Black Catholic panelists Dr. C. Vanessa White of Catholic Theological Union and Fr Claude Williams, O.Praem of Saints Peter & Paul Catholic Church in Wilmington, California.
Closing remarks will be delivered by Fr Michael Penn of Our Lady of the Lake Catholic Church in Lake Ozark, Missouri. He serves as a delegate for Tolton’s cause from the Diocese of Jefferson City, which joined the Archdiocese of Chicago to begin the canonization process in 2010.
Born into slavery in Ralls County, Missouri, Tolton studied for the priesthood in Rome during an era when US seminaries refused Black applicants. He was ordained in 1886 and soon gained fame as a popular—and persecuted—priest in Quincy, Illinois, where his parents had settled during his childhood. In 1889, he was transferred to Chicago, where he founded St Monica’s Catholic Church, the first Black parish in the city.
Tolton died of a heat stroke in 1897 and was declared “Venerable” by Pope Francis in 2019. In 2021, the Archdiocese of Chicago announced that the former St Elizabeth Catholic Church—into which St Monica’s was earlier merged—would become the Tolton Heritage Center, which could become a shrine upon his beatification.
That stage will require a miracle resulting from Tolton’s intercession to be approved by the Holy See, something that has yet to occur for any of the six African Americans currently on the path to sainthood. That said, Vatican representatives were said to be in the United States as recently as April investigating a possible miracle by Tolton.
The day before the virtual event from the guild, the Tolton Spirituality Center—founded by the archdiocese in 2020—will kick off an eight-week course entitled “Embodied Practices for Trauma Resilience” with psychologist Dr. Jessica Young Brown. The center is also offering a one-month course this fall on parish giving.
Those interested in attending Friday’s virtual event can register via Zoom here; preparation materials will be emailed upon registration, and the stream will begin at 6:30pm CT.
Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger, a seminarian with the Josephites, and a ThM student with the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana (XULA).