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Augustus Tolton

The Archdiocese of Chicago is opening the legal process for the canonization of Father Augustus Tolton, a late 19th century priest, and the first who was African-American.

The story is good on so many levels, but I’ll focus on two.  The first is that it is communities who make saints.  God’s work on us as a master craftsman is to shape us into a servant of those communities into which he sends us; sainthood is never for ourselves alone.  And practically speaking, communities have to be the ones who advance saints’ causes.

The second lesson from Fr. Tolton’s life is that communities are awfully hard places to live out one’s sanctity.  The Catholic Church of his day was grotesquely divided between the races.  Blacks were often relegated to the balcony and sometimes could not even receive communion because it was forbidden to kneel at the rail next to whites.  Father Tolton ministered wherever he was sent, often eliciting scorn from fellow Catholics, fellow priests, and even bishops.  And yet he served faithfully.  We do well to remember how Mother Teresa’s observation applies to figures like Tolton: our job is not to be successful, but faithful.

My prayer, in remembrance of Father Tolton, is this: may God send us to the communities for whom we must be leaven, and may our loving acts of dying to self give rise to the unfolding of his kingdom even when we can’t see it.

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Tim Muldoon
Tim Muldoon
Tim Muldoon is the author of a number of books, including The Ignatian Workout and Living Against the Grain, and teaches in the Department of Philosophy at Boston College.


  1. It would be wonderful if the cause for his sainthood got the “express treatment” that’s used occassionally. Hope Chicago can get needed documentation together quickly.

  2. Beautiful prayer at the end, thank you.
    It’s wonderful that this young priest is being so recognized, for all kinds of reasons. It is hard to even imagine the difficulties he must have endured, daily, in order to function as a Catholic priest. If I recall correctly, he died as a young man? What a life’s story.


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