04 June 2011

A happy day draws near

As regular readers of this blog know well, tomorrow in the great city of Quincy, His Excellency the Most Reverend Joseph N. Perry, Auxiliary Bishop of Chicago and Diocesan Postulator of the Cause for Beatification and Canonization of the Servant of God Father Augustus Totlon, will celebrating the Holy Mass at 3:00 p.m. at St. Peter church in honor of the 125th anniversary of Father Tolton's ordination to the priesthood.

In honor the day's festivities, the Quincy Herald-Whig, one of my past employers, ran a story on tomorrow's festivities.  The text of the article follows, with my emphases and comments:
St. Peter Catholic Church will host a celebration Sunday recognizing the 125th anniversary of the priestly ordination of the Rev. Augustus Tolton, the first American diocesan priest of African descent who had strong ties to Quincy.

The 3 p.m. Mass will be followed by a reservation-only dinner at the Quincy University Student Center, 1810 Lind.

Tolton, who died at age 43 in Chicago in 1897 and is buried in Quincy, is under consideration for sainthood.

"Whether you are a Catholic or not, people in Quincy should be proud (of Tolton's accomplishments)," the Rev. Peter Harman, a native of Quincy [we're sons of the same parish] and pastor of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Springfield, said. "Quincy has a rich abolitionist history with the Underground Railroad, and Father Tolton will always be a person to be admired by all people of Quincy."

Harman is part of The Father Tolton Guild that is compiling information regarding Tolton's potential sainthood. Harman, who will be in Quincy on Sunday, said the city could someday become a destination of religious pilgrims if Tolton's sainthood is eventually approved by the pope.

Cardinal Francis George of Chicago and Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Perry are helping champion Tolton's bid for sainthood, a process that has no specific length but could take a decade or longer. George introduced Tolton's cause in the Archdiocese of Chicago in 2010. A candidate for sainthood must be presented from the dioceses where the person in question died.

Tolton was born into slavery near Monroe City, Mo., but as a young child during the Civil War, he made it to Quincy with his mother and two siblings.

Tolton eventually graduated in 1872 from St. Francis College, now known as Quincy University, and wanted to enter the priesthood. No seminary in America would accept Tolton because of his race. He eventually began his seminary studies in Rome and was ordained there in April 1886.

"The Franciscan friars and diocesan priests all helped teach him," Harman said. "They recognized his intelligence and holiness ... but they were unable to find a seminary (in the United States) that would accept him."

Harman said money was raised throughout the diocese to help fund his trip to and stay in Rome.

Tolton had hoped to become an African missionary, but he was assigned back to Quincy, where he celebrated his first Mass in July 1886.

"He was assigned to a small church that blacks attended," Harman said. "It was a mixed blessing. He was loved, sought out and successful ... but jealous souls complained that he was bringing division."

Tolton was eventually prohibited from ministering to whites [by the dean] and was eventually transferred to Chicago [at Tolton's request, because of the prejudice exhibited by the dean] in December 1889. In Chicago, Tolton started a parish for black Catholics. The church was named for St. Monica and opened in 1893.

"Father Tolton is a model of perseverance," Harman said. "This is not primarily about black Catholics, it is about overcoming great odds to follow one's vocation and to live it faithfully no matter what the obstacles. In fact, though he was often the victim of terrible prejudice, he was the vehicle by which everyone could see how false the prejudice was. Many had to step up and stand up for him, and most of all, he had to keep going.

"This is exactly what a saint does. Never alone in their success, they never leave us alone in our attempts."

All information and findings concerning Tolton eventually will be forwarded to the Congregation for Saints' Causes at the Vatican in Rome. The stages of canonization that precede sainthood are titled Servant of God, Venerable and Blessed. The final decision on sainthood eventually will be made by the pope.

Tolton's cause of death in Chicago was ruled sunstroke. Cardinal George said most priests in the 19th century died before their 50th birthdays due to poor public health in those days.

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