He Was Free, but He Wasn’t Free
Servant of God, Augustus Tolton, was the first recognizable black priest in the United States. (‘Recognizable’ means there were 2 earlier priests who passed for being ‘white’.)
Augustus was born in Missouri in 1854. His family was owned by Catholics, who had their slaves baptized. “Slave” is noted on his baptismal record. His father died early in the Civil War. His courageous mom fled with her three children, crossing the Mississippi to the free state of Illinois, settling in Quincy.
To the chagrin of some church members, the Irish Pastor of St. Peter’s welcomed the Toltons. In time, he saw that Augustus had a vocation. But no seminary in the US would accept him. Unfazed by that, the Pastor arranged Augustus’ acceptance in a seminary in Rome where he was ordained in 1886. Afterwards Fr. Tolton returned to Quincy.
Fr. Tolton was a good priest, but other priests wouldn’t accept him. So he was sent to Chicago. He ministered there until July 9th, 1897, when he died of a heat stroke. He is buried at St. Peter’s in Quincy. I recently visited his grave. And I’m so touched by his story.