First African-American priest up for sainthood

February 24, 2011 5:21:53 PM PST
The first African American to become a Roman Catholic priest is now under consideration for sainthood.

The cause for the beatification and canonization of Fr. Augustus Tolton of Illinois is moving forward.

On Thursday, the Archdiocese of Chicago began a process that could lead to sainthood for Father Tolton. At the St. James Chapel at the Quigley Seminary, a prayer service was held and and the decrees were signed to examine the priest's life, virtues and reputation of holiness.

"A man, a priest, a Christian who somehow survived all of that and remained loyal to his people, a devoted priest," said Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Perry of Chicago and postulator for Fr. Tolton's cause for sainthood.

"It is significant because the Catholic Church in this moment is recognizing the fact that a man, the descendant of slaves, his life is a testament of holiness, is a testament of perseverance," said Vanessa White, Catholic Theological Union.

White says they need to show proof that Fr. Tolton was responsible for miracles and it can take years.

Tolton, born the son of slaves in Missouri, studied for the priesthood in Rome because no American seminary would accept him. Ordained for the Diocese of Quincy in southern Illinois in 1886, he later came to Chicago to start a parish for black Catholics. He was only 43 years of age at the time of his death in 1897.

"This is important because this is the first African American who would be saint for us," said Mary Norfleet Johnson, director of Archdiocese Office for Black Catholics.

"It is a celebration of his life. It's a punctuation of his life," Bishop Perry said.

Bishop Perry when to Rome to present his case for Fr. Tolton's sainthood. Now that the cause of Fr. Tolton is officially opened he will be given the title of Servant of God.

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