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5-part series on Ven. Augustus Tolton continues Wednesday with Bishop Joseph N. Perry

The sessions are led by Auxiliary Bishop Joseph N. Perry of Chicago at the Tolton Spirituality Center, housed in Tolton's former parish.

(Tolton Spirituality Center/Archdiocese of Chicago)

The Tolton Spirituality Center (TSC) in Chicago will host its next “Evening with Venerable Fr. Augustus Tolton” on Wednesday, Mar. 29, the second in a five-part series promoting the Black Catholic saint-to-be.

Auxiliary Bishop Joseph N. Perry, the diocesan postulator for Tolton’s cause, is leading the sessions. Each includes a video, presentation, and Q&A at the TSC, a resource hub in the Bronzeville neighborhood that was first announced in late 2020 alongside a $1M Lilly grant.

Wednesday’s event comes just days ahead of the 169th anniversary of Tolton’s birth on April 1.

“We want to spread the story, to make sure that people are acquainted with Tolton and why he is such an important figure in our history—not only of the past but even carrying a message for the present given the struggles that we have with racism today,” Perry told local PBS affiliate WTTW earlier this month.

The event will focus on “Tolton Spirituality,” describing the theology and worldview of Tolton, who was born into slavery and eventually ordained overseas in 1886 as the first openly African-American Catholic priest in history.

He returned stateside to serve in his hometown of Quincy, Illinois, and later in Chicago, where he founded the first Black parish in the city, St. Monica Catholic Church (later merged with St. Elizabeth’s, now a former parish where the TSC is housed).

Experiences of racism dogged Tolton throughout his ministry, but he persevered as a priest in the Black Catholic community until his death from a heat stroke in 1897 at the age of 43.

His sainthood cause was opened by Cardinal Francis George, OMI of Chicago in 2010.

“He had read the definitive biography on Tolton, which came out in about 1973 titled ‘From Slave to Priest,’” Perry said.

“He was so touched by the story. He remarked to me one day that he was going to ask the Vatican if they would consider naming him a saint for all that we put him through, and that’s how it started.”

Perry with attendees at an event in the Tolton Spirituality Center in Chicago. (WTTW)

Investigations into possible miracles said to be caused by Tolton's intercession were officially under investigation in the U.S. as of last spring, indicating that the efforts of Perry and others to promote his cause have been effective.

If a miracle were to be verified by the Vatican, Tolton could be beatified by the pope, an official confirmation that he is in heaven. Such a move would pave the way for an official shrine in Tolton's honor, with the TSC being a likely candidate.

There are presently seven open sainthood causes for African-American Catholics. Only Tolton and two others have been declared Venerable, the second of four total stages.

Wednesday’s event with Bishop Perry will begin at 4pm CT and registration for the free series is available online.


Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger and a seminarian with the Josephites.


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New film shares personal letters of Venerable Augustus Tolton

New film shares personal letters of Venerable Augustus Tolton

CHICAGO — A new documentary on Venerable Augustus Tolton features personal letters from the pioneering Black Catholic priest, to be shared publicly for the first time upon the film’s release in June. A private screening of “Tolton Speaks: The Life and Letters of Fr. Augustus Tolton” was held in February