We use our own and third party cookies to improve your user experience; by continuing to browse, we understand that you accept their use. You can get more information on our cookies policy.

Rome Reports

You are using an outdated browser

In order to deliver the greatest experience to our visitors we use cutting edge web development techniques that require a modern browser. To view this page please use Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox or Internet Explorer 11 or greater

Slave who became a priest and whom the Pope could canonize a saint


In June, the pope took a decisive step in the beatification process of America's first black priest. The pastor of the first African American Catholic parish, Augustus Tolton, was declared venerable. Now all that remains to be done to beatify him is to prove a miracle through his intercession.

FR. DAREN ZEHNLE
Diocese of Springfield (Illinois)
"He is the first black priest recognized as such in the United States and was a man who suffered a lot of prejudice, racism and discrimination. We found in Fr. Tolton that despite everything, he remained a man of great calm, great patience, great peace and of great charity. I think above all we see he never lashed out publicly against anyone who said terrible and hurtful things to him. I think it is a witness to his long suffering, the witness of his desire to unite his sufferings to those of Christ. I think this is the reason why we should consider canonizing him a saint today.”

At the age of eight he had to flee to escape slavery. The future priest worked on a tobacco plantation until he was 10 years old. 

They did not want to admit him to any seminary, because he was black. For this reason, his bishop sent him to Rome, to the Propaganda Fide seminary. 

FR. DAREN ZEHNLE
Diocese of Springfield (Illinois)
"He expected to be sent to Africa as a missionary priest. However, the night before he was ordained, Cardinal Simeone sent him back to Illinois, back to Quincy, to be a priest there. He said that 'if America had not yet seen a black priest, it must see one now.'"

He returned to the U.S. as a priest, and was entrusted with the first African-American parish in the country. He was known as the parish priest of the black Catholics of Chicago.

FR. DAREN ZEHNLE
Diocese of Springfield (Illinois)
"He would be the first African-American, the first black priest of the United States, to be named a saint. This would be another aspect that would be huge. I think a lot of media outlets and a lot of people will want play up his race as a sort of the greatness for his cause. However, I don't think that is it. The greatness of his cause is found in his charity, it is found in his joy, it is found in his zeal, it is found in his long suffering. This of course impacts greatly his race and the way in which others treated him of course. However, it is his Holiness that we seek more than the color of his skin.”

The cause for the beatification of Augustus Tolton was opened in 2010. 

The Archdiocese of Illinois is promoting his life and a pilgrimage to his tomb. This is to build up more devotion to him among the catholic community.

If a miracle through his intercession is proven, the first black priest in the United States could also become one of the country's first saints.