Tolton now a ‘servant of God’

By Joyce Duriga | Editor
Sunday, April 22, 2012

When Cardinal George returned from the ad limina visit in Rome in February, he brought back some good news. The Vatican Congregation for the Causes of Saints had named Father Augustus Tolton a “servant of God.”

“The servant of God status is the Congregation for the Saints agreement that the investigation phase can go forward,” said Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Perry, postulator of the cause.

Before the congregation conferred the title of servant of God they did their own research apart from what the archdiocese submitted, to make sure there was no objection among the Vatican congregations to the cause going forward, Bishop Perry said.

The new title came a year after the Archdiocese of Chicago formally opened a cause for Tolton, who is the first identified black priest in the United States. Born the son of slaves in Missouri, he studied for the priesthood in Rome because no American seminary would accept him. Sent to the Diocese of Quincy in southern Illinois, he later came to Chicago to start a parish for black Catholics. He was only 43 years old at the time of his death.

There is a set process that dioceses must follow when pursuing a cause for canonization. It’s a process laid out in the church’s canon law and outlined in the document Sanctorum Mater.

Now that Tolton is a servant of God, the cause compiles his official biography called a “positio.” This document, which can be volumes long, such as in the case of St. Padre Pio, contains reports from the historical and theological commissions associated with the effort. It also includes witness testimonies from people verifying that Tolton’s reputation has carried through the years inspiring the community, Bishop Perry said.

“That is handed over to the Holy Father at the recommendation of the cardinals who sit on the Congregation for Causes of Saints. Once the Holy Father digests that, if it has his endorsement, then he is named venerable,” Bishop Perry said.

After that, Tolton could be beatified and moves on to “blessed” when a miracle attributed to him is accepted, and then canonized and called “saint” after a second miracle is accepted. Not everyone declared a servant of God or venerable makes it on to beatification or canonization.

While that is going on, the cause is working on miracles. Bishop Perry said

“There is one, possibly two that we are still trying to get physicians’ statements on. They look remarkable but we need the physicians’ statements,” he said.

With the statements, the doctors aren’t asked to admit to a miracle. Rather they are asked to describe what happened in the case.

In the meantime, what is needed now is prayer.

“Keep praying for a miracle,” Bishop Perry said. “That’s what we need at this point.”

For more information about the cause visit To report any spiritual or physical favors granted through prayer in Father Tolton’s name, please write: Office of the Cardinal, Archdiocese of Chicago, 835 N. Rush St., Chicago, IL 60611.

Stages of canonization

Servant of God: Promoter group (diocese, parish, religious congregation, etc.) asks the bishop for an opening of an investigation. A “nihil obstat” is granted from the Vatican for the candidate to be called, “servant of God.” Diocesan tribunal hears witnesses and testimony on heroic Christian virtues. “Servant of God” describes someone at this stage of the process.

Venerable: The postulator presents acts and documentation (Positio) to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in Rome. After favorable judgment and papal approval, the candidate is declared “Venerable.”

Blessed: After a miracle attributed to the intercession of the “Venerable” has been investigated and accepted, the pope decides on beatification. The candidate is now titled “Blessed.”

Saint: After a second miracle is attributed to the intercession of the “Blessed,” the pope may then declare the Blessed a “Saint.”