The cause for beatification and canonization of The Servant of God Reverend Augustus Tolton, the first African-American to be ordained a Roman Catholic priest for the United States, continues to advance with the approval of the theological consultants of the Congregation of the Causes of Saints of his virtuous and heroic life.
The nine-member theological commission recently unanimously voted that the cause be moved forward and presented to the Ordinary Meeting of Cardinals and Archbishops, where a final vote will be taken before presenting the Decree of Heroic Virtues to the Holy Father for his approval. Upon the promulgation of that decree, Father Tolton would receive the title “Venerable,” which indicates he lived the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity and the cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance at a heroic level.
“This is wonderful news for Fr. Tolton’s cause,” said Most Reverend Joseph N. Perry, auxiliary bishop of Chicago and diocesan postulator for the Tolton cause. “The progress of Tolton’s cause continues to validate his life of holiness, perseverance and stamina against great odds.”
Once it is confirmed that one miracle has been granted by God through the intercession of Tolton, he will be declared “Blessed.” For canonization, a second miracle may be required.
“Fr. Tolton’s story represents the long and rich history of African-American Catholics, who have lived through troubling chapters and setbacks in our American history,” said Perry. “Lessons from his early life as a slave and the prejudice he endured in becoming a priest still apply today with our current problems of racial and social injustices and inequities that divide neighborhoods, churches and communities by race, class and ethnicity. His work isn’t done. We will continue to honor his life and legacy of goodness, inclusivity, empathy and resolve in how we treat one another.”
The Canonization Process
This latest stage of the canonization process follows the approval of the Positio of Tolton’s life and virtues by the historical consultants of the Congregation last spring. The Positio, an official position paper prepared by the postulator, summarizes the examination of a candidate’s life, heroic virtue or martyrdom. The Positio on Tolton was assembled through the compilation of documents, publications, correspondence, newspaper clippings, and historical facts of the era in which he lived, and through the testimony of clergy, religious and laity who could vouch for his reputation in the Catholic community as a holy man. Six historical Vatican consultants ruled unanimously on March 8, 2018 in favor of the Tolton Positio, which was based on hundreds of pages of research completed in Chicago.
Tolton’s cause for canonization was announced by the late Francis Cardinal George, OMI, in March 2010. In February 2011, Tolton received the designation “Servant of God,” a title given to a candidate by the Vatican once a cause has begun. The research phase of the cause concluded on September 29, 2014 with a special ceremony in St. James Chapel in Chicago featuring the signing, sealing and binding of the dossier to be sent to Rome.
On March 9, 2015, the Acts of the Diocesan Inquiry into the life and virtues of Tolton were officially opened at the Congregation for Causes of Saints in Rome. On April 17, 2015, the Congregation approved the juridical validity of the Diocesan Inquiry.
The nihil obstat was granted to Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield on June 21, 2016 to open the grave of Tolton for the canonical recognition of his remains. In the presence of Bishops Paprocki and Perry, Catholic Cemeteries for the Diocese of Springfield and the Archdiocese of Chicago exhumed his remains at St. Peter Cemetery in Quincy, Illinois on December 9 -10, 2016 with the assistance of a medical examiner, and forensic and anthropologist specialists. That same day, Tolton was wrapped within a new set of priestly vestments and reinterred.
Born the son of slaves in Missouri, Tolton studied for priesthood in Rome as no American seminary would accept a man of his race. Ordained in 1886 in the Basilica of St. John Lateran for the Diocese of Alton, Ill. (now Springfield), he served his first three years as a priest in that diocese in the city of Quincy at a church for Black Catholics. At the invitation of Archbishop Patrick Feehan, he came to Chicago in 1889 to labor among a small community of Black Catholics, later starting a new parish, St. Monica at 36th and Dearborn Streets. He led St. Monica Parish until his passing in 1897 at the age of 43 of a heatstroke.
To learn more about Tolton’s cause for sainthood, visit www.toltoncanonization.org.