Father Augustus Tolton was a runaway slave turned Catholic minister, and now he’s on the cusp of becoming the first black American saint.
A nine-member Vatican committee voted unanimously Feb. 5 to send Tolton’s sainthood cause, which started in 2010, to the Ordinary Meeting of Cardinals and Archbishops, according to the National Catholic Register.
At that point, the meeting’s members will take a final vote before presenting a “decree of heroic virtues” to Pope Francis for his approval.
Born into slavery in Monroe County, Missouri, in April 1854, Tolton eventually fled north to Quincy, Illinois, where he and his family relocated during the Civil War. Tolton, because of the color of his skin, was unable to study for the priesthood in America. So he went to Rome.
— Chicago Tribune (@chicagotribune) March 9, 2019
In 1889, Tolton was ordained. He served for three years at a parish in Quincy before transferring to Chicago, where he led the St. Monica parish until his death in 1897.
Tolton was the son of two slaves, Peter Paul Tolton and Martha Jane. Tolton’s dad served in the Union Army, ultimately becoming one of the 180,000 black soldiers killed in the war, the National Black Catholic Congress reported.
As he got older, Tolton expressed interest in clergy. So in 1878, the Franciscan College in Quincy accepted him, and two years later, he was enrolled at the college of the Propaganda Fidei in Rome.
If the pope approves Tolton’s “decree of heroic virtues,” the priest would receive the title of “venerable,” meaning he “lived the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity and the cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance at a heroic level,” the Archdiocese of Chicago said.