Ven. Augustus Tolton

In light of recent events, I wanted to add an extra bonus minifig this month. July 9 will be, if he becomes canonized, the feast day of Venerable Augustus Tolton, the first Black American to become a Catholic priest.

Lifetime: 1851-1897
Region: Chicago, Illinois
Patronages (presumed): Black Americans; Against racism; Freed slaves
Iconograpy: Broken chain; Cassock; Biretta
Feast Day: July 9

Augustus Tolton grew up a slave in Missouri. During the Civil War, his family escaped across the Mississippi River, making them all free people. However, that did not mean their lives would be free of the effects of racism. Quite the contrary; his entire life would be plagued by injustice because of the color of his skin. 

As Augustus grew up in Illinois, he joined the Catholic church through the school he attended. During his time in school, Augustus discerned a call to the priesthood. However, he was met with a huge barrier: no seminary in the United States would admit him because of his race. 

Instead, Augustus ended up learning Italian so that he could enroll in a Roman seminary to study for the priesthood. While studying, he planned to carry out his call in Africa, where his race would no longer pose a barrier to his success.

Rome, however, had other plans. A cardinal over Augustus instead decided that he would go back to the United States in order to serve a different mission: racial healing. 

"If the United States has never before seen a Black priest," said the cardinal, "it must see one now.”

Augustus was placed in parish in the same town his family had settled in after escaping slavery, where he had gone to school before Rome. And in that town he experienced exactly the level of racism he had feared. He was banned by the bishop from ministering to White people, and even other priests in his diocese used racial slurs against him. 

After a little while, Augustus was transferred to Chicago, where he was placed over a group of Black Catholics who wanted a parish of their own, with in their words "a priest of their own race". Augustus founded St. Monica's Catholic Church, the first Black Catholic church in the country. 

Augustus soon became known as a gifted preacher and evangelist, bu until his death, racial divides limited his preaching of the liberation and justice that the Church could promise to mostly Black Chicagoans.

Augustus died suddenly at only 43 of a heat stroke. His cause for canonization was opened in 2010, and in 2019 Pope Francis granted him the title of Venerable. 

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