Today (July 11), back in 1886, a young man named Fr. Augustus Tolton celebrated his first Solemn High Mass in the US at St. Benedict the Moor Church in New York City, for a large congregation. It was a historic moment, because Augustus Tolton, a former slave, was the first black priest in the United States.
Ven. Tolton, who is now being considered for sainthood, had a truly remarkable life, one in which he too often encountered as obstacles the very worst of human nature; but his steady faith and kindness, amidst persecution and disappointments that could understandably have embittered him, ended up inspiring thousands. Like Jesus Christ, Tolton repaid injury with charity, and converted hearts because of it.
Augustus “Gus” Tolton’s history reveals the ugliest parts of America’s history, but also its heroes. Tolton himself, who struggled through slavery, poverty, intense racism, great difficulties finding a seminary (every US seminary rejected him based on race, so he had to go to the more open-minded Vatican), and bad health, was the greatest hero of all. But his brave and uncomplaining mother, his friends and family, the priests who wouldn’t let him give up on his dream of priesthood, and the large crowds of both white and black Americans who came to hear him preach also provide praiseworthy examples.
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