Blessed Teresa of Calcutta Parish & School

SLAVERY, BROKENNESS---FR. AUGUSTUS TOLTON LEANS-IN WITH LOVE!

On July 30, 2016, twenty three parishioners of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta Parish car pooled to St. Peter’s Church in Brush Creek, Mo. (near Hannibal).  This pilgrimage turned out to be a GREAT GIFT.

Bishop John Gaydos of Jefferson City, a classmate of mine, led the prayer day.  He informed us the reason for being late was because he had the responsibility of purifying a neighboring parish, St. Clements.  The church had been desecrated a week earlier when a woman who was emotionally distressed smeared manure all over the church, their artifacts, including the tabernacle, vestments, etc.  Bishop Gaydos told us that he used a ritual including the blessing of water and salt, mixing them and sprinkling every object that was profaned.  He mentioned that it was a powerful ceremony for the large gathering of parishioners.

It struck me that the story of Fr. Augustus Tolton had a similar theme of purification of the Holy Water and Salt, having experienced in many ways  the effects of brokenness, slavery, racism and threats, he responded with the purification of his love of Jesus.

  Augustus was born of two slaves, who were property of two Catholic Families who lived next to each other, the Hagers and the Elliots.  Martha Jane Chisley, Augustus' mother, was raised in Mead County, Kentucky.  At the age of sixteen, she was given as part of a dowry by Mrs. Manning to her daughter and new husband, Steven Elliot, who moved to Ralls County, near Hannibal.  Mary Jane never saw her parents again.

She encountered Peter Paul Tolton of the Hager farm (the farm next door) who sought to marry her.  The two Catholic families agreed to have their slaves’ marriage blessed at St. Peter’s Church.  They decided that the couple could live together on the Elliot Farm, but the husband had to still work the Hager farm.  Any kids that were born would belong to the Elliot family.  They had three children, Charles, 1853, Augustus in 1854 and Anne in 1859.  His father slaved at the Hager farm plowing, hoeing, working long hours at the brewery.  Hearing of the talk of the Union freeing the slaves, he ran away to St. Louis to fight for the Union and freedom.  He would never be seen again.   Then his mother fled the farm seeking freedom across the Mississippi River.  She was stopped in Hannibal by Southern authorities, but the Northern sympathizers stepped in with their authority and sequestered an old row boat for her to take across the river with her three children, the youngest being 20 months old. She walked the twenty miles to Quincy and began her new life.

She was able to enroll her two older children in St. Boniface Catholic Grade school, but was dismissed from it because the Catholic parishioners did not want a black child to go to school with their children.  Finally, a succession of tutors consisting of priests and sisters assisted in Augustus’ education, while he worked 10 hours a day, 6 days a week at a tobacco factory and a soda bottle factory 9 months of the year.  Along the way, Augustus made it known that he wanted to become a priest, but when he was of college age, no Catholic Seminary would take a black student in the United States.  Finally, after much persistence, in 1880 a Franciscan priest successfully enrolled him in the Propagation of Faith Missionary Seminary in Rome preparing him to be a missionary for Africa.  On April 24, 1886 he was ordained a priest in Rome, but they decided to send him back to Quincy where he was raised.  He was a popular preacher and the fellow Catholic priests of the other three parishes (and the ministers of the black churches) in town became jealous of his popularity asking the Bishop to remove him because parishioners were leaving their parishes to follow Fr. Tolton.

 Finally he was sent to Chicago where he established the parish of St. Monica for the black population of the area.  A very successful endeavor. On July 9, 1897 returning form a retreat, he died of heat stroke on a trolley in Chicago.

All of his life, Fr. Augustus Tolton experienced hatred, abuse, and rejection as a slave and then as a freed Blackman, many times at the hands of Catholics who espoused Jesus as their savior.  Augustus heard the stories of his mother being a piece of property and ripped from her family and sent to Steven Elliot as a dowry gift.  He was beaten as a young boy in the fields as he worked the Elliot Plantation.  He experienced hatred and rejection from the Catholics in Quincy, Ill, which was a free state.  He was dismissed from school because he was black.  Then no seminary would take him in the United States.  It seemed that Augustus Tolton knew and experienced the brokenness of mankind in many ways. Yet his response as a Catholic Christian was love, healing,and hope because he knew he was a child of God  who loved him with all his heart.

What struck me on my visit to St. Peters Church in Brush Creek was like Bishop John Gaydos sprinkling Holy Water mixed with salt over the whole church and its contents to purify them, Fr. August Topton Leaned In to the heart of Jesus all of his life.  He sprinkled the Life-Spring of Love wherever he lived, worked as a slave, working as a young child in factories and even as a young priest experiencing hatred letters from Catholics whom he was called to serve.  He only lived as a priest for eleven years, but his gift of love still resonates 119 years later.  His zeal, persistence, and willingness to suffer through all the brokenness cast upon him, began with his baptism at St. Peter’s Church in Brush Creek, Mo.  His mother’s love and constant example rooted him into the Holy Family.  We were all privileged to walk upon that Holy Ground as pilgrims.

Now I ask his assistance to carry that same love in my heart as we face the challenges of today in our divided nation & our church.  “Lord, may we Lean Into your heart, and become disciples of Peace and Justice”, like Fr. August Tolton, Your Servant of God.

In His Love,

Fr. Rosy 

PS:  For the full biography, canonization of Fr. Augustus Tolton, please visit the website.  (www.toltoncanonization.org)

 


       

 


   

 

 
 


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