Category Archives: catholic priest

From Missouri Slave to Catholic Priest to "Servant of God": A Shining Star for ALL Americans

IT MAKES SENSE TO ME

by Larry Peterson

This is not about the Ferguson, Missouri of 2014 but it  is about the Missouri of the 19th century.  This is about a black man who I wish that not only the people of Ferguson would learn about but also the rest of Missouri and all of America.  This is about a man whose goodness shined like a brilliant star inspiring others by his gentle and caring example.  Say “Hello” to Augustus Tolton.

On April 1, 1854, Peter Tolton paced nearby as his wife, Martha Jane,  gave birth to her second son. They   named him Augustus (after his uncle) and the baby was baptized soon after in St. Peter’s Catholic Church in Brush Creek, Missouri.  Mrs. Savilla Elliot stood as Augustus’ godmother. This was a situation a bit out of the ordinary at the time.  That was because Mrs. Elliot was married to Stephen Elliot, who happened to be the “owner” of Augustus’ mom and dad.  The Tolton family were slaves and their three children, Charley, Augustus and Anne, were born into slavery.  Slave owners and their slaves, all Catholic. It was a unique situation, especially in the mostly Protestant south.

Augustus was seven years old when  Fort Sumter was attacked and the Civil War began.  Stephen Elliot permitted Peter Tolton to head north and he supposedly was able to join the Union Army.  A bit later, Elliot gave Martha and her children their freedom too.  They headed north and with the help of Union Soldiers crossed the Mississippi River and entered Illinois which was a “free” state.  They settled in the town of Quincy.  Martha and her oldest boy, Charley, were able to get jobs at the Harris Tobacco Company which made cigars.  Augustus looked after his little sister, Anne.  He also began spending a lot of time standing across the street from St. Peter’s Church which was not far from the rooms they lived in.  Augustus Tolton’s life was about to change.

The pastor of St. Peter’s was an Irish American priest, Father Peter McGirr.  Father McGirr had noticed a shabbily dressed African-American boy spending an inordinate amount of time near the church.  After several days had went by Father walked across the street and introduced himself to the boy. After a brief conversation Father asked him, ” Well now lad, do you go to school?”

“No sir.”

“Would you like to go to school?”

Augustus jumped into the air and yelled, “YES Sir, YES!”

Father McGirr and Augustus headed to St. Peter’s.  The priest’s move was very controversial and most of the white parishioners did not want a black student being taught along with their children.  Father McGirr held firm and insisted that Augustus study at St. Peter’s.  He got permission from Augustus’ mom, who was shocked that this had happened to her son.  Augustus Tolton’s life had been placed on the road to his destiny.

Father McGirr may have been moved by the Holy Spirit because he saw something in Augustus that others did not.  Within one month the boy had moved on to “second reader”.  Father approached Augustus and asked him if he would like to receive his First Holy Communion.  He did, and by the summer Augustus was the altar boy for the 5 a.m. Mass.  After several years Father McGirr asked Augustus if he would like to become a priest.  He told him it would take about 12 years of hard study and dedication.  Augustus said, “Let us go to the church and pray for my success.”

Father Augustus Tolton

After graduation and with the unwavering support of Father McGirr, Augustus attempted to get into a seminary.  This was the 1870’s and prejudice was almost taken for granted.  Augustus was rejected by every American seminary to which he applied.  Augustus did not despair, lose hope, or begin to get bitter.  On the contrary, he continued to pray and his prayers, combined with the undaunted determination of Father McGirr enabled him to gain admission to St. Francis Solanus College (now Quincy College) in Quincy, Ill.

Augustus proved to be a brilliant student and upon graduation was accepted into the Pontifical Urbaniana University in Rome.  Founded by Pope Urban VIII in the 17th century, this was a training ground for missionaries.  It was here that Augustus became fluent in Italian as well as studying Greek and Latin.  In 1886, at the age of 32, Augustus Tolton was ordained to the priesthood in Rome.  He was the first black Roman Catholic priest in the United States.

Newspapers from across the country told the story of the former slave now ordained as a Catholic priest.  When Father Tolton arrived back in Quincy he was greeted as a hero.  A brass band played and Negro spirituals were sung as thousands of  people, both white and black, sang together, lined the streets together and held hands together as they waited to catch a glimpse of the former slave boy who had been ordained a Catholic priest.

Father Tolton walked down the avenue dressed in his cassock and wearing the biretta.  When he arrived at St. Boniface Church, hundreds were crowded inside wanting to receive his blessing.  His very first blessing went to Father McGirr who was still by his side. The next day Father Tolton said his first Mass at the church which was once again packed inside while thousands of others stood outside. For these few days prejudices in Quincy, Illinois, were non-existent.  They had been replaced by love of God instead.

Father Tolton remained at St. Boniface’s for five years.  He did meet with stiff resistance as prejudice once again reared its ugly head.  But Father persevered and managed to start St. Joseph’s Parish in Quincy.  In 1892  he was transferred to Chicago and headed a mission group that met in the basement of St. Mary’s Church.  This led him to develop the Negro National Parish of St. Monica’s Catholic Church.  He was such a kind, caring man that he came to be know as “Good Father Gus”.  The church grew quickly and soon had over 600 parishioners.  His next plan was to oversee new construction at St. Monica’s which had begun  to accommodate the swelling numbers of parishioners.  He would not live to see it.

Father Tolton had been ill for quite some time and had never told anyone.  On a steaming July day in 1897, with the temperature at 105 degrees, Father Tolton was returning from a retreat in Bourbonnais, Ill.  When he stepped from the train he collapsed.  Taken to the hospital, he died a few hours later from sunstroke. The heat wave had killed him.  He was only 43 years old.  His community was shocked.  They had lost a dear friend.  Father Tolton was buried at St. Mary’s Cemetery near Quincy.

On March 2010, Cardinal George of Chicago, announced that he was beginning the cause for canonization for Father Tolton.  On February 24, 2011, the Catholic Church officially began the formal introduction of the cause for sainthood. Father Augustus Tolton is now designated officially as “Servant of God”.

 If 125 years ago white people and black people could join hands in song to honor a black Catholic priest, why could something like this not happen again?  We need to ask the Servant of God, Father Augustus Tolton, for his  intercession  to help us now with our own individual prejudices.  Maybe instead of the animus displayed in
Ferguson, Missouri we could once again join in prayer and remember people like Father Tolton, a slave who persevered and became a Catholic priest.  Maybe instead of a Ferguson, Missouri we could have a replay of a Quincy, Illinois circa 1889.  With God, anything is possible.  Maybe a new Augustus Tolton will step from the shadows  and unite us all in brotherhood.

Another 5 STAR unbiased review for The Priest & The Peaches

The book has been out for over a year and below are two  reviews. One  is brand spanking new and the other is almost one year old.  This book, based on a true story, is about blue-collar folks living and working and sharing their lives together in a tough NYC south Bronx neighborhood. The untimely death of the widower, Yimey Peach,  leaves his five kids to fend for themselves. Father Tim Sullivan, the parish priest, quietly guides them on their parentless journey starting with their father’s somewhat raucous New Year’s Eve Funeral. Characters such as Migrane Magrane, Fadeaway Walker, Little Red Coffey and others lead a bizarre contingent of family friends who are there to bid their friend Yimey, a Happy New Year. Only problem is they have usually had way too much to drink. Even the neighborhood shrew, the despised Beatrice Amon, gets involved–VERY involved. This book is funny, sad and definitely inspirational. See the two reviews below or go to Amazon where there 46 reviews posted,  mostly with 4 or 5 stars

5.0 out of 5 stars Well done, February 26, 2013
This review is from: The Priest and the Peaches (Kindle Edition)

Peterson has created a captivating novel that stars a large cast of unique characters who keep you enticed and make you not want to set your e-reader down even though it may be well past your bedtime! Your heart will be touched as you journey with the children. A few well placed unexpected twists add to the story, surprising the reader. A great read

5.0 out of 5 stars The Lord Works in Mysterious Ways, April 10, 2012
This review is from: The Priest and the Peaches (Kindle Edition)

Here is an alert to this book. Make sure you have a box of tissue ready. You will either laugh until you cry and you will cry at the sad moments. This book is that good. It is amazing to me how together these five orphans were. There was never any doubt in their minds that they all wanted to be together. The older two children who are in their late teens could have easily said nope I do not want the responsibility of caring for my younger siblings. They stepped up to the plate and decided that they did. To me that in itself speaks volumes. Teenagers are normally in their own little world not looking out for anyone but number one. ( Believe me I know I have 2 of my own.) The Peach family is a family that you will fall in love with. I found this book to be highly entertaining. I loved how be kind to others is a main theme of this book. How one good deed can turn into many more.

If you are interested in finding out more about Larry Peterson and his writings you can check out Tribute Books or his blog.

I received a complimentary copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

The Dead Man's "Secret to Life" Saves His Kids

Review Redux:  
This review is from: The Priest and the Peaches (Kindle Edition)

Book Title: The Priest And The Peaches
Author: Larry Peterson
Published By: Tribute Books
Recommended Age: 15+
Reviewed By: Lee-Ann Graff-Vinson
Blog Reviewed For: Great Minds Think Aloud
Rating: 4 (****)

Yimey knew the secret to life. He made sure his family and friends did, too. Even when the love of his life died, he kept the faith. But then, Yimey died and his five children were left to fend for themselves – orphans in a grown up world.
Teddy and his sister, Joanie were now the adults of the house, taking care of the everyday happenings of a family. Their three younger siblings were more than handful. With work to attend, and high school exams to complete, Teddy and Joanie tried hard to fill the enormous shoes their parents left behind.

There were those, however, who did not agree with five children living in an apartment without any adult supervision. Orphans could not raise orphans. Just days after they buried their father, the “adults” went back to work, leaving the younger ones at home. Catastrophic events led the three young children to be taken into custody by the police, and a call made to Child Protection Services. They had lost their mother and father, and now they were about to lose each other. The only way out was through a dead man’s secret to life.

Author, Larry Peterson, uses loving humour to guide his readers through a novel of heartache. He writes with a message to us all, one that shows the true worth of love for thy neighbour. The Priest And The Peaches will leave you with feeling of warmth after days spent in the cold, bleakness of reality. This is a story worth reading and recommending to family, friends and neighbours. The secret to life is worth sharing, right Yimey?

Lee-Ann Graff-Vinson is the author of `Georgia’s Smile’, `Love’s Trust’, `Callie’s Fate’, and her most recent release – `Love And Liberty’ (now also available in print). Also just recently released, `Queen Emily’s Enchanted Kingdom – Sugarland’, first in the series of children’s picture books (available in kindle and print).

Review Reprint; "I challenge you to read this book, Dare to look inside yourself—"

4.0 out of 5 stars Very Well Written, February 13, 2012
This review is from: The Priest and the Peaches (Kindle Edition)

This book is more than a story to be read… it holds lessons on life, love and happiness that we could all stand to revisit. What I found amazing as I read the story, only covers one week in the life of the Peach children. That one week, seven measly days, just so happened to be kicked off with the untimely death of a father they came to realize they barely knew.

I like to consider myself a good Christian, but books like The Priest and the Peaches that have significant religious themes often make me uncomfortable. To be honest, I briefly thought of declining the request for a review. While the religious aspects of the story did have me squirming in my seat and uncomfortable, I am very glad I read this book. I not only learned about the emotional roller coaster the Peach children road the seven days just after their father passed, I learned a lot about myself.

I learned I need to take a deep breath and try to not let my pride get in the way, I learned that everything and I mean everything happens for a reason. Don’t get me wrong, I sort of knew these things about myself already but something about the Peach children and the other characters that populate their world has moved me in such a way that I can’t exactly explain.

I challenge you to read this book, I challenge you to not learn that something that will at least have you thinking for a second longer in the future. I dare you to look inside yourself and really think about whether you might misjudge a character in your life like Peach children were misjudged (and the people the Peach children misjudged). I challenge you to do more than acknowledge your neighbor, I challenge you to L-Y-N. Want to know exactly what I am talking about? Read the book.