Father Augustus Tolton: The First Recognized Black Catholic Priest in America
By Corinna Laughlin, Maria Laughlin
Augustus Tolton, born into slavery, was first black man known 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 father left to fight for the Union Army, never to return. His mother led the 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.