A gala supporting the sainthood cause of Venerable Augustus Tolton, the first openly Black priest in US history, has been scheduled for April 2nd in New Iberia, Louisiana.
Chicago auxiliary bishop Joseph N. Perry, the diocesan postulator for the cause, will travel to Louisiana to celebrate a pre-gala Mass at St Edward Catholic Church—where the cause’s special assistant Fr A. Gerard Jordan, O. Praem relocated to from Chicago in 2020.
The gala will take place at 6pm CT in the newly built St Katharine Drexel Family Life Center, a banquet hall located nextdoor to St Edward.
It is being organized in partnership with the Tolton Spirituality Center, a million-dollar initiative announced in 2020 that promotes the cause and spirituality of Tolton in view of his hoped-for canonization. The Louisiana event will serve as a kickoff for the TSC’s Gulf Coast chapter.
The Tolton cause has continued to gain steam in recent years, having been first opened in 2010, 113 years after his death from a heat stroke at the age of 43. In 2019, he became just the third African-American in history to be named “Venerable”, as well as the first and only by Pope Francis.
A number of recent pilgrimages have featured the history of Tolton's life and work, which includes the founding of Chicago’s first Black parish, the former St Monica’s Catholic Church, and his prior experience as a persecuted (but overwhelmingly popular) pastor in his native Quincy, Illinois.
Tolton is also known for having received both his seminary training and his 1886 ordination to the priesthood in Rome, as no American seminary would accept him (or any other Black students). He was sent to serve in his home country by Vatican officials who believed the time was ripe for the color barrier to be broken within the US priesthood.
A new documentary released this year also covers his story alongside those of the five other African-American Catholics currently under consideration for sainthood.
The gala festivities next month will include the bestowal of the Tolton Award upon a number of local leaders, including Msgr Ronald Broussard of Our Lady of the Assumption Catholic Church in Carencro and St Martin de Porres Catholic Church in Scott; Fr Chester Arceneaux of the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist; and St Edward parishioners Anthony and Marilyn Green, Rita LeBlanc, and John Reedom.
Tickets for next month’s gala are priced at $50, and more information can be found on the St Edward website and Facebook page. Interested parties can also contact the parish at (337) 369-3101 or email@example.com.
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).