Jennifer Barton
Jennifer Barton
Staff Writer
March 17, 2020 // Local

Parish celebrates African Americans on the path to sainthood

Jennifer Barton
Jennifer Barton
Staff Writer

Six African Americans are currently candidates for sainthood, something Deacon Mel Tardy, chairman of the diocesan Black Catholic Advisory Board, is eager to see.

“They would be the first African American saints,” Deacon Tardy said. “We have very few American saints. It’s wonderful in terms of evangelization, just to have someone we can relate to.” There is also a sense of pride that the canonization of the six would give to the African American community, he added.

A celebration of one of the candidates, Venerable Father Augustus Tolton, was scheduled for April 1 at St. Augustine Parish in South Bend but has been postponed to an undetermined date. On the new date, the parish hopes to celebrate the birthday of Father Tolton with a Mass of Thanksgiving.

The best-known of the candidates, Father Tolton, or “Father Gus,” as he was known by his beloved flock, was born a slave. Father Tolton overcame racial prejudice to gain his education and became the first Roman Catholic priest in the United States publicly known to be black when he was ordained in 1886. He went on to pastor the first black Catholic church in Chicago, St. Monica. He is said to have been an excellent homilist and to have had a close association with St. Mother Katharine Drexel, who sponsored many Catholic missions for African Americans and Native Americans.

File photo
Venerable Father Augustus Tolton and five of his African American brothers and sisters in Christ are now on the path to sainthood.

Of the other candidates, five are women. All lived holy lives in vastly different situations and locations. Two helped found African American women’s religious orders: Servant of God Mother Mary Lange founded the Oblate Sisters and Venerable Henriette Delille founded the Society for the Holy Family. Both orders were dedicated to educating and caring for poor African Americans in their respective cities of Baltimore and New Orleans. Servant of God Sister Thea Bowman also became a religious sister due to the example of the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, which she joined.

The other two candidates were laypeople who lived in vastly different situations. Venerable Pierre Toussaint was a well-educated slave in New York: He was eventually freed and became a wealthy man. He generously gave much of his money to Catholic social causes, and he and his wife opened their home to orphans and those sick with epidemics.

Servant of God Julia Greeley lived in poverty, though her generosity was no less than Toussaint’s. Moving west after the Civil War she ultimately settled in Denver, Colorado, working for white families and giving everything she could spare to the poor in her neighborhood. Greeley had a deep devotion to the Blessed Sacrament and became a Secular Franciscan toward the end of her life.

St. Augustine Parish established the Tolton Society in the 1970s with a mission that in large part consists of promoting “a full appreciation of and honor for African American spirituality and culture in Catholic liturgy.”

When Annie Tardy, Deacon Mel’s wife, became chairman of the ministry, she began praying over what its mission meant for the parish. “It changed from planning Christmas socials to finding ways to promote our namesake,” she said. In making the change she, along with other members of the ministry, gained a greater familiarity with Venerable Tolton and an appreciation for the struggles he faced as a former slave, particularly those of trying to receive an education and pursue a vocation to the priesthood.

The Tolton Society has made pilgrimages to places in Illinois that were significant in Venerable Tolton’s life. The group currently meets on the first Monday of the month and has expanded its membership and activities beyond the parish to include St. Pius X.

In July, South Bend became the eighth city in the country to form a group of what is known as the Tolton Ambassadors. These groups raise awareness for Tolton’s canonization through fundraising events and prayer. Local ambassadors meet once a year with ambassadors from other cities such as New Orleans, Atlanta and Chicago to further promote Venerable Tolton’s cause.

Bishop Joseph N. Perry, auxiliary bishop of Chicago  and postulator of the cause of Father Tolton, encourages the praying of intercessions to Father Tolton with the following prayer.

“O God, we give you thanks for your servant and priest, Father Augustus Tolton, who labored among us in times of contradiction, times that were both beautiful and paradoxical. His ministry helped lay the foundation for a truly Catholic gathering in faith in our time. We stand in the shadow of his ministry. May his life continue to inspire us and imbue us with that confidence and hope that will forge a new evangelization for the Church we love. 

“Father in Heaven, Father Tolton’s suffering service sheds light upon our sorrows; we see them through the prism of your Son’s passion and death. If it be your Will, O God, glorify your servant, Father Tolton, by granting the favor I now request through his intercession (mention your request) so that all may know the goodness of this priest whose memory looms large in the Church he loved.

“Complete what you have begun in us that we might work for the fulfillment of your kingdom. Not to us the glory, but glory to you O God, through Jesus Christ, your Son and our Lord; Father, Son and Holy Spirit, you are our God, living and reigning forever and ever. Amen”

Deacon Tardy also hopes the community will pray for the causes of Father Tolton and the other five African American saints, something that is “certainly appropriate during this holy season of Lent,” he said.


O God, we give you thanks for your servant and priest, Father Augustus Tolton, who labored among us in times of contradiction, times that were both beautiful and paradoxical. His ministry helped lay the foundation for a truly Catholic gathering in faith in our time. We stand in the shadow of his ministry. May his life continue to inspire us and imbue us with that confidence and hope that will forge a new evangelization for the Church we love.

Father in Heaven, Father Tolton’s suffering service sheds light upon our sorrows; we see them through the prism of your Son’s passion and death. If it be your Will, O God, glorify your servant, Father Tolton, by granting the favor I now request through his intercession (mention your request) so that all may know the goodness of this priest whose memory looms large in the Church he loved.

Complete what you have begun in us that we might work for the fulfillment of your kingdom. Not to us the glory, but glory to you O God, through Jesus Christ, your Son and our Lord; Father, Son and Holy Spirit, you are our God, living and reigning forever and ever.

Amen.

2010 Bishop Joseph N. Perry
Imprimatur
Francis Cardinal George, OMI
Archdiocese of Chicago

https://tolton.archchicago.org/

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