By Vatican News
The name of Augustus Tolton stands out among the list of eight decrees of heroic virtue, partly because he is the only American, 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 Basilica 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 community, 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 Chicago experiencing an exceptional heatwave. Fr Tolton was frequently given to bouts of illness and fatigue. On 8 July, he collapsed and died of heatstroke. He was 43 years of age.
His cause for canonization was opened by the Archdiocese of Chicago in 2010. On 12 June 2019, Pope Francis officially confirmed his “heroic virtue”, putting him on the path to eventual sainthood.
The Archdiocese of Chicago's official website for the Cause for Sainthood for Father Augustus Tolton includes historical information about his life, various videos that can be viewed on line, and other important information about his life.