Augustus Tolton Becomes Ordained Catholic Priest
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Augustus Tolton (1854-1897) was born to Catholic slave parents in Missouri, but his family escaped slavery when he was young. Living in Illinois, he desired to be a priest but knew the barriers he would face as an African-American. Attending Quincy College, a Franciscan school, he was able to impress the Franciscans there with his gifts. This helped him attain admission to the College of Propagation of the Faith in Rome, Italy in 1880.

After five years of study, he was officially ordained on April 24, 1886 in Rome. Unlike previous Catholic priests with African ancestry (see James Augustine Healy), Tolton was the first fully African-American priest and was clearly recognizable as black. This led to suspicion from whites but adulation from African Americans, who later flocked to his Chicago parish in the 1890s.

Before his return to the United States from Rome, Cardinal Giovanni Simeoni remarked about Tolton, "If America has never seen a black priest, it has to see one now."
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Race/Ethnicity and Religion in American History
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Augustus Tolton portrait- Hathi Trust- from Souvenir Golden Jubilee, celebrated Nov. 20, 21, 22, 1910
Book/Journal Source(s)
Murphy, Larry, J. Gordon Melton, and Gary Ward, 1993. Encyclopedia of African American Religions. New York: Garland.
Reid, Daniel, Robert Linder, Bruce Shelley, and Harry Stout, 1990. Dictionary of Christianity in America. Downers Grove, IL.
Web Page Contributor
Benjamin T. Gurrentz
Affliated with: Pennsylvania State University, Ph.D. in Sociology

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