First African American Catholic Priest on the Path to Sainthood

He started life as an enslaved person in Missouri. Years later, he became one of the first Black Catholic priests in the United States. His story is one of bravery, sacrifice, and hope.

Bishop Perry
Bishop Joseph Perry

Bishop Joseph Perry, Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Chicago and postulator for Venerable Augustus Tolton’s cause for canonization, joined Morning Air® to share the inspiring story of this fascinating man who may one day be officially declared a saint.

Missionary Amongst His Own People

“Augustus seems to have picked up his faith and disposition from his mother. The family was Catholic because their owners were Catholic there in northeast Missouri,” explained Bishop Perry. Unfortunately, though most Christian slave-owners had their slaves baptized into their own faith, “that did not necessarily bring notions of equality with it. But there was some recognition that these laborers, uncompensated as they were, nevertheless they had souls.”

Tolton’s family escaped from slavery and crossed the border into Illinois, a free state. They settled in Quincy, where Tolton began attending Catholic school and learned more about the Catholic faith from the priest and nuns there.

A priest in Quincy saw the deep faith that Tolton possessed and recognized his vocation to the priesthood. Tragically, no seminary would accept a Black seminarian, so Tolton was turned away time and time again. “There was a seven or eight year search for that until the Franciscan Friars … decided to appeal to their major superiors in Rome … who operated a college and seminary for young men who were trained as missionaries in far off lands. It was quite a diverse student body.”

Ven. Augustus Tolton
Ven. Augustus Tolton

The newly-ordained Fr. Tolton was sent back to the United States as a “missionary amongst [his] own people”. He faced racial discrimination, violence, and false accusations in his hometown of Quincy. Eventually his own bishop turned on him and he made his way to Chicago.

Path to Sainthood

Ven. Augustus Tolton’s cause for canonization officially opened in 2010 after the late Cardinal Francis George asked the Vatican to look into the life of the possible saint. Bishop Perry wrote a Prayer for the Canonization of Ven. Augustus Tolton, invoking his intercession for a miracle or favor:

O God, we give you thanks for your servant and priest, Father Augustus Tolton, who labored among us in times of contradiction, times that were both beautiful and paradoxical. His ministry helped lay the foundation for a truly Catholic gathering in faith in our time. We stand in the shadow of his ministry. May his life continue to inspire us and imbue us with that confidence and hope that will forge a new evangelization for the Church we love.  

Father in Heaven, Father Tolton’s suffering service sheds light upon our sorrows; we see them through the prism of your Son’s passion and death. If it be your Will, O God, glorify your servant, Father Tolton, by granting the favor I now request through his intercession (mention your request) so that all may know the goodness of this priest whose memory looms large in the Church he loved. 

Complete what you have begun in us that we might work for the fulfillment of your kingdom. Not to us the glory, but glory to you O God, through Jesus Christ, your Son and our Lord; Father, Son and Holy Spirit, you are our God, living and reigning forever and ever.


Listen to the full interview with Bishop Perry:

Tune in to Morning Air® weekdays at 5-8am CT only on Relevant Radio®.

Lindsey is a wife, mother, and contributing author at Relevant Radio. She holds a degree in Journalism and Advertising from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Lindsey enjoys writing, baking, and liturgical living with her young family.