During February, which is Black History Month, the archdiocese’s Black Catholic Initiative held an essay contest for students in Catholic schools on the topic “How would Father Augustus Tolton respond to bullies?”
Students were encouraged to draw from their own experience of bullying and then write through the lens of Tolton, the first identified black priest in the United States. The Archdiocese of Chicago opened his cause for canonization in 2011.
Jacquelline Del Raso, an eighth-grader at St. Therese Chinese Catholic School, 247 W. 23rd St., won the contest and earned a tablet. Second place winner was Tiffany Tse, a seventh grader at St. Therese. Lauren Dexter, a seventh-grader at Augustus Tolton Catholic Academy, received honors for "most creative writing."
The winning essay is reprinted below.
Bullying is a threat to human dignity with people my age including myself because it targets personal traits and self-esteem, which do not relate to individual needs. Human dignity is broken and shattered by unfair treatment towards a person based on their likenesses and differences.
Some insecurities people my age have are money, appearances, feeling isolated, belonging to a group and, over all, being accepted for who we are. Teenagers especially can become suicidal, depressed and turn to drugs. They do this because they see no way out.
Bullying is a very strong way to do harm to someone like a teen because eventually this will stop their personal growth as a human being and becoming an adult. It’s not just kids my age who get bullied about these things, it’s literally everyone who has lived on this planet. Old people, teenagers, little kids, and adults all get bullied.
When bullying occurs, it hurts a lot. You feel isolated and targeted because of who you are. These bullies do not care if they hurt you and only want to do harm.
Bullying comes in many forms like emotional, physical, verbal, and cyber bullying. The person who is bullied feels torn down and helpless because they feel no one is there to help them. Sadly, sometimes, these bullied people turn to suicide, depression, revenge and that is something that should not happen.
As a student who was bullied in school, I felt so hurt and literally cried so much that I did not want to see myself for who I was. I heard the bad words, the shaming, the constant nitpicking at my clothing, my appearance, my way of life, basically. I did not want to end my life because I still saw a little bit of me inside myself.
With the help of my gracious mother, I slowly got through it. But others don’t. When the pain and shame is so intense then their only way out (suicide) is better in their eyes and mind.
Please, if anyone out there is bullied, let your parents, teachers, friends, family know about it because you can get through it. Like me.
Father Augustus Tolton was not only a well loved and respected priest, he was also bullied in his lifetime. When he was born into slavery, that automatically took away his dignity. He was the property of the white masters and, as it usually goes, the slaves were treated with cruelty and hatred. This alone is a form of bullying. It takes away your dignity as a human being. He had no respect or honor for himself because his owner and society stripped him from that human God given right.
When Augustus was 11, he went to school at St. Boniface in Quincy, Illinois, but only lasted there one month. His teachers and parish were being harassed and threatened only because they let him attend the school. Other schools he attended also gave him the horrible treatment of discrimination and harassment by students and the parents.
Why would they do this to him? Probably because they felt insecure about themselves. When someone bullies another it’s usually because the bully themselves feels bad and is full of hatred to others outside their race or nature.
Blacks in our history have faced a lot of discrimination. They were seen as property and nothing more. If they saw that a black young man was there to learn and educate himself, like Augustus, the bullying white people felt offended. “How can a black person know anything? They are illiterate and can’t think for themselves,” they say. Father Augustus felt and lived through all this bullying and hatred but that did not stop him from fulfilling his devotion to the love of God and helping others.
Father Augustus didn’t let the bullies, the hatred and the discrimination of people stop him from continuing to go to school. At the age of 14, he went to St. Joseph School and here is where he most likely got his confirmation and Communion done. He graduated from St. Joseph School at 18 and went on to get special tutoring in preparing for the seminary.
At age 24, he went to Quincy University receiving special instruction because he was smarter than the students there. Two years later he went to Rome to the seminary to become a priest and at age 34 he was ordained a priest.
Clearly, Father Augustus’ response to being bullied and hated for being a black young man made him fight for what he believed was his right to be, a human being with dignity and respect. No matter what he went through, he fought it all with his love and faith in God.
His mother told him when he was a little boy escaping into freedom, “You’re free. Never forget the goodness of the Lord.” With this goodness of the Lord, he served the Lord by helping his fellow African Americans who were poor, sick, hungry and isolated and showed them the faith of God. He never gave up on doing his devoted and loving work to help others. Even with all the racial tensions happening in Chicago, he still faced his work relentlessly.
“Good Father Gus” will always be remembered.
Pope Francis advanced the sainthood cause of Servant of God Augustus Tolton June 11 when he issued a decree declaring him “venerable.” The title “venerable” recognizes that he lived a life of heroic virtue.
Pope Francis advanced the sainthood cause of Father Augustus Tolton, who was the first African American diocesan priest in the United States and founder of the first black Catholic parish in Chicago.
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."