The name of Augustus Tolton
stands out among the list of
eight decrees of heroic virtue,
partly because he is the only Amer-
ican, but mostly because, when he
was ordained in 1886, he was the first
Catholic priest in the United States
publicly known to be black.
Born a slave
Augustus Tolton was born into a
family of slaves in Missouri, in 1854.
He studied for the priesthood in
Rome and was ordained at the Basil-
ica of St John Lateran in 1886 when
he was 31 years of age. He returned
to the United States soon afterwards
where he served the black communi-
ty, mostly in Chicago.
Good Father Gus
Known for his musical talents,
which included a gift for playing the
accordion and a beautiful singing
voice, “Good Father Gus”, as he was
nicknamed, quickly became famous
for the eloquence of his sermons.
Contemporary local news articles
refer to him specifically as being “a
fluent and graceful talker”.
Died of heatstroke
The year 1897 saw the city of Chica-
go experiencing an exceptional heat-
wave. Fr Tolton was frequently given
to bouts of illness and fatigue. On 8
July, he collapsed and died of heat-
stroke. He was 43 years of age.
His cause for canonization was
opened by the Archdiocese of Chi-
cago in 2010. On 12 June 2019, Pope
Francis officially confirmed his “he-
roic virtue”, putting him on the path
to eventual sainthood.