09 July 2013

Father Tolton died 116 years ago today

On this day in 1897 two priests - along with many others - died as a consequence of a heat wave in the greater Chicago area: Father Otto Greenbaum, who died in his rectory, and the Servant of God Father Augustus Tolton, whose cause for Beatification and Canonization is presently underway.

Quincy's first citizen, to borrow a phrase from Bishop Perry, had just returned to Chicago from a retreat in Bourbonnais, Illinois and was about to make a few rounds in his parish when he collapsed at 36th Street and Ellis Avenue.  He was taken to Mercy Hospital where he died at 8:39 p.m. at the age of 46.

As was his known wish, his body was brought back to the Gem City and buried on July 13, 1897 in St. Peter's cemetery where it remains interred to this day.  Regrettably, I was unable to visit his grave today due to commitments out of town.

My thoughts have often turned to Father Gus throughout these past many days as I look ahead to my move to the Eternal City.  It is a move that the Servant of God also made from Quincy and he faced many of the same challenges - and many more besides - that I soon will face: two new languages (Italian and Latin), a new culture, moving away from family and friends, etc.

At present I am neither excited nor overwhelmed at the prospects of my appointment to graduate studies in canon law at the Pontifical Gregorian University, though once I arrive in Rome one week from this morning I am certain to experience both sentiments.

As I ponder the prospect of learning a new subject in a new language, I continually remind myself that others have done this before me and have survived quite well; if they can do it, so can I.

It is especially encouraging to know that I can call upon the intercession of this Servant of God whose life is bound with mine not only by virtue of the Priesthood of Jesus Christ, but also by a common city and a love of its citizens.

In a letter to a friend, Father Tolton once wrote:
Catholics will love and respect a priest regardless of nationality; at least that is the spirit of those people in the Gem City who knew me for twenty-nine years.  Never will they forget the happy hours spent in little St. Joseph church.  I wish them all the blessings that can be bestowed upon them, for that charitable spirit that they have always shown toward me and the colored children.
For my part, I will never forget the happy hours spent at St. John the Baptist Baptist, the chapel of Quincy University, and within the Great River TEC movement.  I, too, wish the citizens of Quincy all the blessings that can be bestowed upon them for the charitable spirit they have always shown me.

Please join me in praying for Father Tolton's beatification and canonization, and ask him to intercede for me in my coming studies.

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