Local sainthood crew picked for Tolton campaign

August 11, 2017 GMT

A diverse group of Christians are taking up the sainthood campaign for the Rev. Augustus Tolton, whose ordination in the late 1880s marked the first time the U.S. Catholic church brought an African-American priest into its ranks.

A group of 13 people were confirmed as Tolton ambassadors for Philadelphia, with the Chicago Archdiocese’s auxiliary bishop, Joseph N. Perry, presiding over the two ceremonies that took place last weekend.

Perry, who serves as postulator for the canonization of Tolton, conducted the first part of process during in a private reception in West Philadelphia on Aug. 4. and completing it in front of a full sanctuary at the St. Raymond of Penafort Catholic Church, 1350 E. Vernon Road in Mount Airy on Aug. 6.

“I am looking forward to going to Rome for the canonization of Father Tolton,” said Louise Frasier. “That is why I am excited about being an ambassador. I really hope that we get the momentum going so that this will happen in my lifetime, while I am still able to travel to Rome to see it happen.

“There is nothing like going to a canonization. Our parish went to Rome for a canonization. It’s just a thrill to be there among so many people when a saint is commissioned,” he said. “The last time we went we were among 62 others from this area. I hope that we will have the same size group or more for Father Tolton.”

Augustus Tolton, born in 1854, is recognized as the first Black Catholic priest in the United States. He was ordained on April 24, 1886, and endured racial persecution in serving the faith until his death at age 43 due to a heat-related stroke, according to the African American Registry.

The Philadelphia Tolton ambassadors are led by Eugene Frasier, who holds the title of presiding governor and is supported by Lt. Gov. Beverly Harper, who works in the Philadelphia Archdiocese’s Office for Black Catholics. Both Frasier and Harper are members of the St. Athanasius Roman Catholic Church in the West Oak Lane section.

The group includes Tonya Banks, Steve Mathis, Ernest and Madeline Tynes, Cynthia Brown, Roslyn Butts, Floretta Caudle, Louise Frasier, Art Monroe and Wadell Ridley. The Rev. A. Gerard Jordan is serving as special assistant.

“I think it is wonderful to be able to share with others why Augustine Tolton, a priest, should be a saint,” said Madeline Tynes. Many do not know what we are doing: to try to get an African-American priest, the first in the United States, to be canonized.

“Father Tolton did a lot of work to insure that the poor people were taken care of. Many of us know about St. Peter Claver, who did work like that, but he was not from the United States. Father Tolton also did work like that in reaching out to people and being of great service,” she said.

After the confirmation ceremony and rousing applause for the new Tolton ambassadors, the Rev. Christopher Walsh, pastor of St. Raymond, said that the church was carrying on the charitable spirit of persons like Tolton and Claver by welcoming a refugee to its parish and having a back-to-school drive to collect supplies for families at the Stenton Shelter in Northwest Philadelphia.

Tolton is not the only one of African descent whose sainthood is being advocated.

Many in the Haitian American and other Catholic communities have spoken up for the Venerable Pierre Toussaint, known as the “Servant of God;” the Denver Archdiocese is spearheading the drive for Julia Greeley, also called the “Angel of Charity;” many in New Orleans are doing the same for Venerable Henriette Delille, also known as “Servant of Slaves;” and the Baltimore Archdiocese is seeking the canonization of Mother Mary Lange, known as the “Servant of God.”