Father Tolton may soon be declared ‘venerable’ by pope

By Joyce Duriga | Editor
Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Father Tolton may soon be declared ‘venerable’ by Pope Francis

The canonization cause for Servant of God Augustus Tolton is just one step away from going to Pope Francis where the priest would be declared “venerable.” The remaining steps in the process to canonization are to be declared “blessed” and “saint.”
Augustus Tolton was a seminarian at Urban College in Rome in this undated file photo. (Photo provided by the Archdiocese of Chicago)
The gravesite of Father Augustus Tolton in St. Peter’s Parish Cemetery in Quincy, Ill. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Clockwise from left, forensic anthropologist Mark Johnsey, medical examiner Nathaniel Patterson and archeologist Deacon David Keene remove soil from the grave of Servant of God Father Augustus Tolton on Dec. 10, 2016, at St. Peter Cemetery in Quincy, Ill. Verifying and securing the remains of the holy person is one of the steps leading to canonization. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

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.” 

On Feb. 5, the feast of St. Agatha, a nine-member Vatican theological commission unanimously voted that Tolton’s cause move forward to the cardinals and archbishops in the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. That group will make a final vote to send a “decree of heroic virtues” to Pope Francis for his approval.

Upon the promulgation of that decree, 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.

Tolton, the first African American to be ordained a Roman Catholic priest for the United States, was born into slavery, ordained in Rome because no U.S. seminary would take him and died serving in Chicago in 1897. If canonized, Tolton would be the U.S.’s first African-American saint.

“Father 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 Bishop Joseph Perry, archdiocesan postulator for the cause. “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 Archdiocese of Chicago announced Tolton’s cause for canonization in 2010. Miracles are needed to continue to the stages of blessed and saint. Bishop Perry said unexplained physical healings have been reported to the cause and are under investigation

Norbertine Father Gerard Jordan holds the title “promoter of the cause” and travels the country sharing the message of Tolton and the canonization efforts on behalf of Bishop Perry.

He says Tolton’s story transcends the lines of race, gender and priesthood.

“If we start with the black part then it’s just a nice Black History Month story. If we start from the priesthood part you only include the ordained,” Jordan said. “First off, he didn’t start off as a black man or an ordained priest. The first thing that Tolton was was a created child of God. You gotta start there.”

Like all humans, Tolton was created in God’s image and likeness.

“The first experience Tolton would have recognized, and it would have had a physical and spiritual effect on him, was his baptism,” Jordan said. “If we connect with his baptism then everybody is included in and can relate to his story.”

All the baptized are connected, he said.

“The baptism of Tolton tells the real story that we’re supposed to be paying attention to and that’s the story of the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” Jordan said. “Everything that Tolton experienced in life is the Gospel story.”

Tolton had great love for the church, the people of God.

“He saw himself connected to the church who loved him. His mother, Martha Jane, was his physical mother but his spiritual mother was very real to him,” Jordan said. “He said himself that the Catholic Church was the only thing that would help him to beat the double slavery of his mind and his body.”

In his lifetime, Tolton also talked about how his mother the church took him as a poor slave to become fully who he was in the eyes of God.

“Everybody has to realize that the greatest inheritance we will ever receive is our baptism,” Jordan said. “It is your decision whether or not you’re going to keep that inheritance and invest in it or whether you’re going to squander it or give it away or abandon it. Tolton never abandoned his inheritance.”

His story begins and ends there, Jordan said.

“Once people relate to Tolton’s baptism they will find pieces of their life that they can relate too.”

Click here for more on the cause for canonization.


  • pope francis
  • augustus tolton

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