In honor of Black History Month, the archdiocese’s Black Catholic Initiative held an essay contest for students in Catholic schools with the topic “Why I think or believe Father Augustus Tolton should be a saint.”
Tolton is the first identified black priest in the United States. The Archdiocese of Chicago opened his cause for canonization in 2010.
Andre Sherley, a sixth grader at Augustus Tolton Catholic Academy, 7120 S. Calumet Ave., won the contest and earned a tablet computer. His essay is reprinted below.
To become a saint, you must show that you have lived for Christ — against all odds and obstacles. Father Augustus Tolton beat the odds, worked his way through the obstacles and his Christ-like life became the foundation of his future.
Father Tolton was born a slave in 1854, in Ralls County, Missouri. He showed us that through adversity you can achieve great things. He was determined to become a priest and do God’s will.
He was the first black to attend a Catholic school in his community, which was located in Quincy, Illinois. He had to overcome discrimination at a young age. I am sure that being in a school during slavery was not easy and I know being the only black person in the school was even harder.
People were very mean to him and the parents complained so much, he had to leave. The Sisters of Notre Dame decided to tutor all of the Tolton kids so that they would still get an education and I am sure that really made him feel bad.
Even though people did not make it easy for him to attend school, he never stopped. He ignored everyone and still received his education.
As he became older, Father Tolton wanted to become a priest. At that time, blacks were not able to enroll in the seminary. Every seminary he tried to enter told him no. He still did not give up. The priests at his school were determined to help him and he traveled to Italy to find a seminary.
Finally, Father Tolton entered into a seminary in Rome. After a lot of studying, concentration and determination, Father Tolton completed all of his classes and his journey in the priesthood began.
When Father Tolton came back to the United States, he still could not find a church to serve. No one wanted to have a black priest serving in the church. If there were no seminaries in the United States — Quincy, Illinois — specifically, the priests would teach him themselves.
Father Tolton received his first assignment at St. Joseph Parish in Quincy, Illinois. Even after all of the time Father Tolton spent away from the United States, there was still racism and discrimination in the Catholic Church. There were people who still did not want him to be a priest at the church. That did not stop Father Tolton.
Word spread that he was a great preacher and people came to hear him speak from far away. That did not stop people from talking about him and being mean to him. However, none of that stopped Father Tolton from preaching the word of God. When Archbishop Patrick Feehan in Chicago heard how Father Tolton was being mistreated, he told him to come to St. Augustine’s church in the city, where he would minister to other black Catholics.
The church was so poor that it did not even have a place for him to live. That still did not stop Father Tolton. The people at his church raised money so that he could have an apartment to live in. Father Tolton never stopped preaching.
A saint is a person who helps people and continues to do God’s work — even if people try to do things to stop him. Father Tolton went through a lot of suffering during his lifetime.
He displayed patience, courage and humility while trying to live his life’s dream of becoming a priest. He is someone we can be proud of.
As an African-American Catholic, I am very proud to say he is someone I can look up to. Father Tolton was devoted to his dream and to the dream of the church. Even though it was hard, even though it was difficult, Father Tolton completed his task and continued doing the plan that God had for him.
For information about Father Tolton or his cause for canonization, visit www.toltoncanonization.org.