Saturday, February 6, 2021

A Prayer to Venerable Fr. Augustus Tolton

Painting by Zack Okello

The following prayer is adapted from the biography of Venerable Fr. Augustus Tolton from the Archdiocese of Chicago:

It is intended to be used by Catholic school faculty and staff members, though it could be adapted for use by students and/or Catholic.

+As we pray for the intercession of Venerable Fr. Augustus Tolton, the first black priest born in America, we look forward to the day when our world will see an end to racial and gender firsts. May our work today and always help break down systems of oppression while simultaneously building up systems that support and enhance equity and justice. 

  • Venerable Fr. Augustus Tolton, pray for us. 

Venerable Fr. Tolton, you were born into slavery and your baptism was the result of this injustice, as the family who enslaved yours mandated all who they oppressed receive this sacrament. 

  • May we work to dismantle systems and structures that perpetuate cycles of oppression that bind families to certain ways and statuses of life. Instead, may we create liberating pathways that afford all the opportunity for and support necessary to obtain a Catholic education and a better life. 
  • Venerable Fr. Augustus Tolton, pray for us.

Venerable Fr. Augustus, your father enlisted in the Union Army and gave his life in service to ending slavery in our country. Your widowed mother risked everything for a life of liberation, escaping slave quarters and traveling over 40 miles from Missouri to Illinois with three young children - your brother Charley, age 8; you, age 7; and your sister Anne, 20 months old. Union soldiers came to your family’s aid, supplying your mother with a dilapidated rowboat that she used to cross the Mississippi River - under gunfire from Confederate soldiers - to Illinois. 

  • May we support all dreamers and may we break down barriers that keep people trapped in states of oppression. We pray for everyone in our world risking their lives for the hope of a better future. May we become entrepreneurs - people who can innovatively design and implement new ways to attract, enroll, and support Catholic education for all.  
  • Venerable Fr. Augustus Tolton, pray for us. 

Venerable Fr. Gus, as you were affectionately called, you were the first black student to attend your Catholic elementary school. Despite the efforts of the pastor and teachers to prepare the community and welcome you and your family to the school, you faced ridicule, other students mocked your accent, made fun of your inability to read, and called you insulting names referencing both the color of your skin and that you came from a single parent home. 

  • May our work with anti-racism help create shepherds among our communities. May we become and form faith-filled Catholics who will protect, guide, empower, and love the most vulnerable and those from minoritized groups within our communities.
  • Venerable Fr. Augustus Tolton, pray for us. 

Venerable Fr. Tolton, you desired to become a priest and fought for the opportunity to pursue this vocation. When no seminary in the United States would take you, despite the support of many priests and bishops, you found a way across the ocean to be formed in Rome at the Propaganda Seminary. Here you were formed as a missionary priest, and it was your suspicion, and hope, that you would be sent to Africa. However, Cardinal Simeoni overruled the committee on appointments, announcing: “America has been called the most enlightened nation in the world. We shall see whether it deserves that honor. If the United States has never before seen a black priest, it must see one now.” Despite your disappointment, you humbly accepted this mission and returned to serve in the place that had rejected you. 

  • May we become and create mentors who can help all of those within their communities come to discover and follow their vocation. May our work help foster an increase to vocations to the priesthood and religious life and may Catholic schools everywhere spark a revival of faith within the Catholic Church, a revival similar to the types you fostered in both Quincy and Chicago.
  • Venerable Fr. Augustus Tolton, pray for us.  

Venerable Fr. Augustus, your priestly ministry was relatively short; you served as a priest for 11 years before you passed into eternal life at the age of 43. In that time, you ministered to blacks and whites alike and were esteemed by many. You were a talented homilist and you gave yourself wholeheartedly to your ministry. You served at altars in the corners and basements of churches and you dreamed of building a church that would serve black Catholics in both Quincy and Chicago. Despite seeing the beginning of construction of a church in Chicago, you did not see its completion. You ultimately gave your life in loving service to your congregation, working zealously to provide masses, catechism classes, schools, and other forms of ministry so that others would come to know, love, and serve God. 

  • May we become and develop visionaries who can carry out your dream to build a church where its members would grow closer to God. May we work zealously, as you did, in loving service of our communities in order to bring this vision to life.  
  • Venerable Fr. Augustus Tolton, pray for us. 

Verable Fr. Gus, you were surrounded by a cloud of witnesses who helped form and support you throughout your life. From your loving parents, especially your mother, Martha Jane; to Sr. Chrysologus, one of your first teachers, who would help tutor you after school to give you special lessons and also to protect you from the other students; to Fr. Peter McGirr, the pastor of St. Lawrence who befriended you and your family and helped you discern and supported you throughout your vocation; to St. Katharine Drexel who donated money to the cause of building the church of which you dreamed and later sent Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament to serve in the school of your parish, this cloud of witnesses allowed you to run the race marked out for you, keeping your eyes fixed on Jesus (Hebrews 12:1-2). 

  • May our work in anti-racism move from forming allies in our Catholic schools and world to instead forming accomplices - people who are completely invested in and walking alongside those whom we serve. May we become and raise up a new generation of Catholics who will actively work to make our world more conformed to the principles of the Gospel.  
  • Venerable Fr. Augustus Tolton, pray for us.