Remembering Venerable Augustus Tolton on Juneteenth

June 25, 2024

On June 19, the United States commemorates the anniversary of the 1865 order that gave freedom to enslaved African Americans in Texas, issued two months after the Civil War ended. More commonly known as “Juneteenth,” it became a federal holiday in 2021 and serves as a fitting day to remember the first Black Catholic priest in the U.S. whose cause has been opened for canonization — Venerable Augustus Tolton.

Tolton was born into slavery in Brush Creek, Ralls County, Missouri, on April 1, 1854, to Catholic parents Peter Paul Tolton and Mary Jane Chisley. The Venerable Father Tolton was baptized at St. Peter Church in Brush Creek, Missouri on May  29, 1854 by the Reverend John O’Sullivan. His godmother was Mrs. Stephen Elliott. Peter Paul escaped shortly after the beginning of the Civil War and joined the Union Army, dying shortly thereafter. In 1862, Augustus Tolton, along with his mother and two siblings, escaped by crossing the Mississippi River into Illinois. Tolton began to attend St. Peter’s Catholic School, an all-white parish school in Quincy, Illinois, thanks to the help of Father Peter McGirr. The priest went on to baptize Tolton, instruct him for his first holy Communion, and encouraged his vocation to the priesthood.

The full story of Venerable Augustus Tolton can be found here at the National Catholic Register.