Chicago Archdiocese calls for black priest's sainthood

March 18, 2010 3:02:06 PM PDT
The son of slaves, Father Augustus Tolton is now being considered for sainthood.The priest founded a Roman Catholic Church on the city's South Side.

Father Tolton died at 43 before the turn of the 20th Century. He's not well know to every Catholic, but for African-American Catholics, he's already a saint.

"He gave us a person. He is an African American priest and he's Catholic so it is OK for us to be Catholic," said Mary Norfleet-Johnson, Archdiocese Office Of Black Catholics.

The Archdiocese of Chicago is introducing Father Tolton's cause for sainthood. As the first known African-American priest in America, Father Tolton is credited for building the African American Catholic community in Chicago.

Tolton came to Chicago in 1889 and built a storefront church called St. Monica, which eventually became St. Elizabeth's. Today, plaques and murals dedicated to Tolton decorate the South Side church.

"This shows young African American children that anything can be overcome," said T.H.K. Daniels, St. Elizabeth's School.

Daniels is a teacher at St. Elizabeth School. He says Tolton worked with Sister Katherine Drexel, who is now a saint, to build a school for African Americans. Tolton was born to slaves and because no African American seminary would accept him, he was ordained in Rome.

"At first, he did not want to come back to the United States. He thought he was going to Africa, and the bishop said no, the African Americans in the United States and the United States and the church needs to see and know an African American priest," said Daniels.

Tolton paved the way for every black priest and bishop.

"He was a very spiritual man, only to endure the hardships that he endured. That tells us, even today, as African American Catholics, that we can endure," said Norfleet-Johnson.