Father Augustus Tolton Peace Center opens in Austin

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He was a former slave who made history in the Catholic Church and in Chicago. (WLS)

He was a former slave who made history in the Catholic Church and in Chicago.

Father Augustus Tolton was the first African American to be ordained as a priest for the United States in the 1800s.

A new center opened in his honor on the city's West Side Wednesday and to carry on his legacy.

A blessing from Cardinal Blaise Cupich dedicated the new Father Augustus Tolton Peace Center and Garden to help Chicago's Austin community in its mission for peace.

"It has to hit our hearts. If we're really going to bring about transformative change in our society, we all have skin in the game here," said Cardinal Blaise Cupich.

The 46,000 square foot building the center calls home was a gift from the Austin Bank Corporation. Catholic Charities which currently helps more than 30,000 neighborhood residents, started offering programs at the center in December.

"You can just come on in and they'll treat you with open arms," said Raquel Brown, a neighborhood resident.

The center's located on the city's West Side which continues to be plagued by gun violence. That's the reason why there's a 17,000 square foot peace garden next to it.

The gift from Catholic Charities features a moving sculpture by artist Timothy Schmalz entitled "Thou Shall Not Kill" - that depicts Jesus weeping over a gunshot victim.

Both the site and the garden are named for Father Augustus Tolton. He's a former slave and the first African American to be ordained a Roman Catholic priest in the United States. He's also being considered for sainthood for his good works.

"People here say they hope the center will not only be a resource for social services, but like a peace hub to help stop the violence and heal families.
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