America’s First Black Catholic Priest Honored in Illinois

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Currents News Staff

Catholics recently gathered in Quincy, Illinois to remember the man recognized as the first Black Catholic priest.

It came on the anniversary of Father Augustus Tolton’s death. He died at age 43 on July 9, 1897 from what’s believed to be heat stroke.

Father Tolton spent part of his childhood in Quincy. He attended seminary in Rome because no American seminary would accept a Black man.

He spent several years serving in Quincy before transferring to Chicago. On July 9, a mile-long procession began at the statue of Father Tolton – and ended at the cemetery where he’s buried.

“He wasn’t afraid of the persecutions or racisms or the other things that were happening in his time,” said Father Peter Chineke, parochial vicar at Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Springfield, Ill. “He knew where he was heading, he knew where his hope lies – in Heaven.”

Wayne Wienkie also attended the procession.

“The fact that he had been a slave, and became a Catholic priest,” said Wayne. “And was the first Black African priest in the United States.”