First African-American priest could be first African-American saint

The first African-American priest in the US could be the country’s first African-American saint.

Fr Augustus Tolton’s cause for canonisation was officially launched in 2010, and he was given the title “Servant of God” by the Vatican in February 2011.

The runaway slave-turned priest’s cause for sainthood took a step forward last week.

A committee of six Vatican officials approved a summary of his life, virtue and alleged miracles as historically correct.

The officials’ approval enables Tolton’s cause go before the Vatican’s theological commission.

The commission will determine, with the Congregation for Causes of Saints, whether to move forward with the canonisation process.

If they do, with the pope’s approval, Tolton will be declared “venerable.”

A venerable person may be declared “blessed” if a miracle attributed to him or her is approved by the Vatican.

After that step, Tolton’s cause would move forward toward beatification, for which a miracle through his intercession must be approved.

Another approved miracle would lead to his canonisation.

Bishop Joseph N. Perry, auxiliary bishop of Chicago and diocesan postulator for the Tolton cause, called the Vatican officials’ approval a “very positive sign going forward”

He noted its significance for the African-American Catholic Community.

“Fr Tolton lived during a particularly tumultuous time in American history, especially for race relations,” he says.

“He was a pioneer of his era for inclusiveness, drawing both blacks and whites to his parish in Quincy.

“However, due to his race, he suffered discrimination and condemnation.

“The beatification and canonisation of Fr Tolton will signal a significant milestone in the history of black Catholicism in the United States.”

Tolton began his ecclesiastical studies in Rome, since no American seminary would accept him because of his race.

On April 24, 1886 he was ordained in Rome for the southern Illinois Diocese of Quincy.

He was greeted at the train station “like a conquering hero” when he arrived, the website of St Elizabeth’s Parish says.

“Thousands were there to greet him, led by Father McGirr. A brass band played church songs and Negro Spirituals.”

Fr Tolton served in Quincy before going to Chicago to start a parish for black Catholics.

On July 9, 1897, Fr Tolton collapsed during a hot day and died from sunstroke at the age of 43.

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