By LINDA M. LINONIS
St. Dominic Church will pray a unique novena to the Rev. Augustus Tolton, the first black priest in the United States.
Father Tolton (1854-1897) was introduced for sainthood in 2010 by Cardinal George of the Archdiocese of Chicago.
Bishop Joseph N. Perry, auxiliary bishop of Chicago and diocesan postulator for the Cause of Augustus Tolton, wrote, “Tolton’s story is one of carving out one’s humanity as a man and as a priest in an atmosphere of racial volatility. His was a fundamental and pervasive struggle to be recognized, welcomed and accepted. He rises wonderfully as a Christ figure, never uttering a harsh word about anyone or anything while being thrown one disappointment after another. He persevered among us when there was no logical reason to do so.”
The Rev. Greg Maturi, St. Dominic pastor, said the novena is planned June 30-July 8.
The novena will be said after Sunday Masses at 1 p.m. June 30 and July 7 and after weekday Masses at noon during that time period.
The intention of the novena is for the spiritual welfare of the black community in America.
Father Maturi said the novena was suggested by David Gray of Warren, who recently became a member at St. Dominic.
“I talked about it with Father, and he thought it was a good idea,” Gray said.
Gray said he became a member of St. Dominic because of its outreach efforts in the community.
“This was a way I could get involved,” he said, adding he wanted to promote the canonization of Father Tolton.
Gray said his study of Father Tolton revealed a successful ministry in Chicago.
“His preaching was so authentic, people were drawn to it,” he said.
He added the prospect of sainthood for Father Tolton “is exciting.”
A website, www.toltoncanonization.org, focuses on Father’s Tolton’s life and ministry.
The history notes his parents were slaves in the Hager and Eliot families of Missouri, who were Catholics.
He was born April 1, 1854, in Brush Creek, Mo. His father, Peter Paul Tolton, escaped to serve in the Union Army during the Civil War; eventually, his mother, Martha Jane, ran away with Augustus and his siblings to Quincy, Mo. The family attended St. Boniface Church.
Augustus was educated by a priest and later attended a seminary in Rome.
He was ordained a priest April 24, 1886, in Rome, and later became pastor of St. Augustine Church in Chicago in 1889, where he ministered to black Catholics.
He died of heat stroke July 9, 1897.
Father Tolton’s struggle to become a priest as he dealt with racism provides a lesson in perseverance, courage and faith.
Father Maturi said parish members and South Side residents around the church would be able to relate to those qualities in their own quest to make the community a better and safer place to live.
“The novena will renew and reunite,” he said.
The novena will address these topics — the spiritual anchoring, moral formation, stability and strength of marriages and families, peace, educational and economic opportunities, the end of abortion, more evangelists and more vocations — in the black community.
“Anchoring is looking to Jesus Christ, who holds the community together,” Father Maturi said. “Trust and hope in Jesus is the anchor.”
The novena also is a prayerful prelude to the opening of St. Dominic’s new parish center.
It will be used for church activities and the wider community, Father Maturi said.
The parish center will open Aug. 8 with a noon Mass and blessing by Bishop George V. Murry.
Among community outreach efforts in which the church is involved is the harvest activity in October, an alternative to Halloween.
Last year’s event, which also involved the ICU Block Watch and CIRV (Community Initiative to Reduce Violence), attracted some 800 participants.
Father Maturi said such events are part of evangelization.
“It’s helping the community in a prayerful context,” he said, adding such activities help strengthen families.
He said these are simple, basic steps of outreach before the Gospel connection is made.