Augustus Tolton, born into slavery, was the first man known to be black to be ordained to the priesthood in the United States. While he is still largely unknown to most Catholics, the Black Catholic community in this country has never forgotten his name.
Born in Missouri in 1854, Tolton spent his first years in slavery in Ralls County. After the outbreak of the Civil War in April of 1861, his mother led his family to freedom in Quincy, Illinois.
As a boy, Augustus Tolton was the first black student in the neighborhood Catholic school, encountering and overcoming great prejudice. Feeling the call to serve God as a priest, he persisted in pursuing his vocation in spite of the barriers placed in his way because of his race. Rejected by every seminary in the country, he studied for the priesthood in Rome. Ordained in 1886, he returned to the United States and ministered in Quincy, then in Chicago. He continued to encounter prejudice, both in the Church and out, but persisted in spite of tremendous odds to serve the Church and build up the Catholic community. He became a sought-after speaker and a beloved pastor until his untimely death of heatstroke on July 9, 1897. He was just 43 years old.
Tolton's cause for sainthood was introduced in 2011. His story, a story with great relevance for us today, needs to be better known. This graphic novel offers a way for readers of all ages to find out more about this holy man and learn to know him as a friend and an intercessor before God.
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