Category Archives: prejudice

"Good Father Gus"–a Little Known Member of the Catholic Hall of Fame

IT MAKES SENSE TO ME

By Larry Peterson

From the Catholic Hall of Fame:  Meet Servant of God; Father John Augustus Tolton.  (I consider Catholic saints and those being considered for sainthood as members of the Catholic Hall of Fame. That is strictly my designation because they are the best of the best and we Catholics honor them and try to follow their example.)
_________________________________________________________

On April 1, 1854, Peter Tolton paced nearby as his wife, Martha Jane, gave birth to their son and named him Augustus. Augustus (named after his uncle) was baptized in St. Peter’s Catholic Church in Brush Creek, Missouri.  Mrs. Savilla Elliot stood as Augusta’s godmother.  This was a situation a bit out of the norm, especially for this time in history.  Mrs. Elliot was married to Stephen Elliot who happened to be the “owners” of  Augustus’ dad and mom.  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.

There are varied debates about how the Toltons gained their freedom. The most common story has it that Peter Tolton ran away and joined the Union Army.  Then,  when the Civil War began, Stephen Elliot gave Martha and her children their freedom.  They headed north and, with the help of Union soldiers, crossed the Mississippi River and entered  Illinois which was a ‘free’ state.  They all got jobs at the Herris Tobacco Company which made cigars.  Then Charley died and along came Father Peter McGirr, an Irish American priest and pastor of St. Peter’s Catholic Church in Quincy, Ill.  Augustus Tolton’s life was about to change.

Father McGirr had noticed a shabbily dressed African-American boy standing across the street from the church. After three days he went and spoke to the boy. He asked him if he would like to attend school. Augustus answered “YES!” This decision by Father McGirr was quite controversial as most parishioners did not want a black student being taught along with their kids.  Father McGirr held firm and insisted that Augustus study there.  The young man even began studying with some priests.

Father McGirr had seen  something in young Augustus that others did not see. Within a month the boy had advanced to ‘second reader’ and Father asked him if he would like to receive his first Holy Communion. By summer Augustus was the altar boy for the 5 a.m. Mass.  Then Father McGirr asked the young man 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.”

After graduating and with the unwavering support of Father McGirr, Augustus attempted to get into a seminary. He was rejected by every American seminary to which he applied. Undaunted, Father McGirr helped young Tolton gain admission to St. Francis Solanus College (now Quincy College) in Quincy, Ill. Upon graduating he 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. Here Augustus Tolton 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 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. Thousands greeted him and a brass band played and negro spirituals were sung.  People, black and white, lined the streets to catch a glimpse of the new priest dressed in black cassock and wearing the biretta. When Father Tolton arrived at St. Boniface Church hundreds were waiting inside wanting to receive his blessing. His first blessing went to Father McGirr who was by his side. The next day father offered his first Mass and the church was packed while literally thousands of people stood outside. For the moment prejudices were replaced with  love of God.

Servant of God; Father Augustus Tolton

 Father Tolton remained at St. Boniface’s for five years.  He met with stiff resistance from white Catholics and Protestant blacks when he tried to start a black parish.   When he managed to start St. Joseph Parish in Quincy the new “dean” of the parish demanded that he turn all white worshipers away. Father Tolton refused and prayed and persevered,  never losing faith.

Father Tolton was transferred to Chicago in 1892 and headed a mission group that met in the basement of St. Mary’s Church. This led to him developing the Negro National Parish of St. Monica’s Catholic Church. He was such a kind, caring man that he came to be known as “Good Father Gus”.The church grew quickly and soon had over 600 parishioners.  Father Tolton was looking forward to having construction at St. Monica’s completed so it would be a source of pride for its parishioners.  He would not live to see it. 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.  He died in the hospital a few hours later from sunstroke. He was 43 years old.  Apparently he had been ill for sometime and had never said anything to anyone.  The heat wave did him in. His community was shocked and stunned. They had lost a dear friend. Father Tolton is buried at St. Mary’s Cemetery near Quincy, Ill.

On March 2, 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.  We might ask Father Tolton’s intercession to help us with our own individual prejudices.

50 Years Ago He Had a Dream–Is It Becoming a Nightmare?

by Larry Peterson

Fifty years ago Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his now famous “I have a dream” speech in Washington D.C. A quarter of a million people stood and listened. Here are  a few excerpts:

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.
I have a dream today.”

 “Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.
We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence.”

So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania!

Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado!
Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California!
But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia!
Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee!
Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.
And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

Of course these are only several out of context remarks from that great speech. And it WAS a great speech. I dare say over the last fifty years we had come a long way in seeing Dr. King’s dream of  joined  hands between white and black people actually materialize. The Alabama mentioned in the speech is long gone.  Governor George Wallace and his famous “Segregation now, Segregation Forever” inaugaral speech from January, 1963 seems almost surreal. We had come a long way. Barack Obama is the President. We have had and have  black Supreme Court Justices. We have had a black man as Secretary of State and we have one as Attorney General.  At present there are 43 African-Americans serving as congressmen and women and two as United States Senators.

We had come a long way  and then, on February 26, 2012,  a 17-year-old by the name of  Trayvon Martin was killed in Florida by a neighborhood watch captain named George Zimmerman. From “we HAVE come a long way” changed to “we HAD come a long way”. The race baiters pounced. Time to fan the flames of intolerance and hatred and spit in the face of everything Martin Luther King stood for. Even our own President of the United States dipped  into the trough of animus and racism helping to divide a country that  before Trayvon’s death had actually come together more so than anytime in our history. It was far from perfect but it was so much better. How sad to see all of that progress cast to the wind.

Honoring Dr. Martin Luther King on this anniversary is a fine thing. But the people on the podium should not be using this man as camouflage for an agenda that flies in the face of everything he stood for. This can be a time to bring people together, to tamp out the flames of hatred, and to honor the progress we have made in race relations. There will  always be the narrow minded, black and white, who harbor mindless and insensible prejudice based on skin color. It is not a perfect world.  In his honor it is time to heal and spread the words once more of Martin Luther King, ““Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” His dream should not turn into a nightmare.

For Kids (Adults too) Overcoming Differences: You Can Do It !!

Review Redux:  Slippery Willies Stupid, Ugly Shoes


5.0 out of 5 stars Overcoming Differences: You Can Too! 
This review is from: Slippery Willie’s Stupid, Ugly Shoes (Hardcover)

I had the opportunity to review a children’s book, Slippery Willie’s Stupid, Ugly Shoes by Larry Peterson. It is an easy read for school-aged children where they can relate to the message. Peterson depicts an excellent message that is it okay to be different than everyone else and sometimes your own fear is the biggest hurdle. Many children face bullying in school by their peers and this story gives children courage to be themselves.

I wanted to read this to my daughter but it is a little too mature for her age right now but I would love to purchase the book for her to have when she is older to read and understand the message of accepting differences. Everyone is not the same and you should not put a person down or make fun of them because they are not like you.
                                          **********************

Scroll down on right to a Story Cub presentation of Slippery Willie and to view the book trailer