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 would Father Tolton view a Catholic education as valuable?”
Tolton is the first identified black priest in the United States. The Archdiocese of Chicago opened his cause for canonization in 2011.
Cameran Moy, an eighth grader at St. Therese Chinese Catholic School, 247 W. 23rd St., won the contest and earned a tablet. Her essay is reprinted below.
I think Father Tolton would view a Catholic education as valuable because he first hand reaped the benefits of it and found his calling because of it.
We as Catholics need God’s love and guidance in all that we do. God is love and love is God. Without faith and God in our life, it is difficult to accomplish goals.
A Catholic education not only teaches us academics to accomplish goals but it teaches us what is most important in the world. It teaches us how God is active and present in our everyday life; it teaches us how to forgive and love; it teaches us discipline; and it teaches us service to God, our church and community.
It also develops our sense of compassion through lectures about social justices and injustices and what we can do to change them.
Despite growing up in harsh conditions where he was not accepted just because of his skin color, Father Tolton still fought through the racism and adversity to receive a Catholic education. His first educational attempt at St. Boniface ended quickly as parents threatened to stop supporting the church as well as withdrawing their children from school.
A young Augustus Tolton was disheartened as he suffered insults and racism. It was not until a few years later when Augustus met Father McGirr, the pastor of St. Peter, that changed his life. Father McGirr was aware of all the negative and demoralizing impact at St. Boniface.
He assured Augustus that he wanted him at the Catholic school and ensured that he would not go through the same pain as he did at St. Boniface. The sisters informed the students that they would soon be sharing a class with a black student and spoke to them about acceptance.
The parents and parishioners were not at all accepting and also threatened to withdraw their support. However, at each Mass, Father McGirr reminded the parishioners what Christianity really meant and how to apply it to their lives. He continued until the resistance ended. Due to Father McGirr’s leadership, Augustus was even able to receive more education.
Augustus was a true Christian and soon realized that he wanted to become a priest. Father McGirr attempted to find a seminary school for Augustus, but no one was ready to accept an African American student. Augustus took on odd jobs but still kept his faith.
Finally, in 1878, St. Francis College accepted him as their student. His journey to God’s heart was taking its first steps. Then in 1886, he was ordained. All the qualities that are provided with a Catholic education were something he learned firsthand: God was present in his life when he met Father McGirr, he was able to forgive and love those who tormented him through his faith, he was disciplined to keep up with his studies at a time when no school would accept him, and he has given the biggest service back to God by becoming a priest to serve him and his community.
It also taught him to be strong and overcome his obstacles to reach his goals. Because of all these reasons, Father Tolton would believe that a Catholic education is valuable.
As a student of a Catholic education, there are so many things that my school has taught me. Even though it is a sacrifice, I’m grateful that my parents have sent me to a Catholic school. They’ve given up many things in order for me to receive this education.
I am the person I am today because of what I’ve learned during my time at St. Therese Chinese Catholic School and Church. It has taught me to be a good and moral person. On the website, www.toltoncanonization.org there is a quote by Father Tolton that I could relate to, “As long as I was in that school I was safe. Everyone was kind to me. I learned the alphabet, spelling, reading and arithmetic.”
I too felt safe in my safe, with my second family all day, everyday. I learned many different subjects and languages just like Father Tolton, and I have also been taught about the life of Jesus and how Jesus sacrificed his life for us. I honestly do not believe that I would have been able to learn a sense of morality and compassion without my Catholic education.
When Fr. Tolton was ordained a deacon, he said “I felt so strong that I thought no hardship would ever be too great for me to accept. I was ready for anything; in fact, I was very sure I could move mountains – in Africa.”
Tolton was so connected with his faith in religion that he felt that he was ready for anything that came to him. While I don’t know what my future will hold, I am confident that with my education and faith, I am ready to take anything on while being a good Catholic at the same time.
Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Perry, postulator of Father Augustus Tolton's sainthood cause, said he was "touched emotionally" by the portrayal of the African-American priest's boyhood and family life in the new short film "Across."
The canonization cause for Servant of God Augustus Tolton is just one step away from going to Pope Francis where the priest to be declared “venerable.” The remaining steps in the process to canonization are to be declared “blessed” and “saint.”
November is National Black Catholic History Month. In commemoration of that here is an excerpt from editor Joyce Duriga’s new book “Augustus Tolton: The Church is the True Liberator,” Liturgical Press, $14.95. Tolton is the first recognized black priest ordained for the United States. The archdiocese opened his cause for canonization in 2011.