From slavery to possible sainthood: The story of America’s first black Catholic priest

Source: The Washington Post

Augustus Tolton’s miraculous journey has inspired a canonization effort and a one-man play

The story of America’s first black Catholic priest begins with a miraculous escape from slavery in 1862.

Augustus Tolton, who is now being considered for sainthood by the Catholic Church, was born enslaved in Missouri in April 1854. His parents, Peter and Martha Tolton, had him baptized Catholic, the faith of the family that owned them.


Father Augustus Tolton was the first American diocesan priest of African descent. (Tolton Collection/Brenner Library at Quincy University) (N/A/Tolton Collection-Brenner Library-Quincy University)

When the Civil War broke out in 1861, Peter Tolton ran away to join the Union Army. Months later, Martha Tolton also fled with her three children, Augustus, Charles and Anne — a bid for freedom that nearly ended in capture.

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