Fr. Roberto Ike: Venerable Fr. Tolton never let God stop working through him


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God made overnight fishing extremely difficult for St. Peter and his companions, in order to maximize the power of the Risen Jesus’s appearance at dawn.

“The Lord always meets you where you are. God always has a plan,” said Father Roberto Ike, Ph.D., administrator of St. Andrew Parish in Holts Summit, referring to the final chapter of John’s Gospel.

Fr. Ike presided and gave the homily at the Fr. Tolton Legacy Society’s sixth annual Celebration Mass on May 1 in Columbia.

Joining him at the altar of the St. Thomas More Newman Center Chapel was Deacon William Seibert, who assists the pastor of Immaculate Conception Parish in Jefferson City.

Fr. Ike spoke with awe of the faith and determination of Venerable Father Augustus Tolton, who was born into a family of enslaved people and baptized into the Catholic Church at Brush Creek in northeastern Missouri.

Fr. Tolton overcame tremendous obstacles toward becoming the Roman Catholic Church’s first recognizably Black priest in the United States.

“And by the way, we ought to canonize his mom, too,” said Fr. Ike. “That woman was a rock!”

With faith handed down from his mother, Fr. Tolton never wavered in his desire to serve God in the way he was being called — as a priest.

“God met young Augustus where he was — as an enslaved boy in a family of enslaved people — and never stopped propping him up and pushing him forward and asking for his obedient persistence,” said Fr. Ike.

“God allowed this young man Augustus to grow up desiring to be a priest when he knew the chances of him becoming one were close to zero,” the preacher stated.

Continuing to listen to God and follow His promptings despite overt racism in the Church marked Fr. Tolton as a person of heroic virtue.

“God was always guiding him,” said Fr. Ike, “always bringing people into his life along the way to help him.”

The overwhelming obstacles, including young Augustus’s poverty and lack of education and the fact that no U.S. seminary would accept him because he was Black, wound up magnifying God’s glory.

Because Fr. Tolton did become a priest, ministering with tremendous faith and devotion despite ongoing hardships that he endured to the very end.

“I have no words to explain this,” said Fr. Ike. “So I have come here today simply to join in praising God, in thanking God for this man, for his life and for the example he gives to all of us.”

Part of that example is to keep working, thriving and aspiring to do and become whatever God has in mind.

“The Lord will meet you where you are,” said Fr. Ike. “That’s where He will encounter you.”

One of six

Fr. Tolton is one of six African American Catholics who are under formal consideration for being declared saints.

Fr. Ike spoke briefly of the other five:

  • Venerable Pierre Toussaint, who after being freed from slavery achieved success as a hairdresser and used his resources to serve the poor;
  • Servant of God Mother Mary Elizabeth Langue, who as foundress of the Oblate Sisters of Providence, was the first African American superior of a religious order;
  • Venerable Henriette Delille, who despite being barred from joining a religious order because she was Black, founded the Sisters of the Holy Family;
  • Servant of God Julia Greely, who was born into an enslaved family near Hannibal, became Catholic after gaining her freedom, consecrated herself to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and became “Denver’s Angel of Charity”; and
  • Servant of God Sister Thea Bowman, a 20th-century convert to Catholicism who became a nun and dedicated her life to singing, teaching and preaching in order to promote devotion to Jesus Christ.

“What each of these men and women had to go through is something I don’t have words to explain,” said Fr. Ike.

“But like every man and woman struggling in the world today, we thank the God Who makes it possible for human beings to do what they have done,” he said.

“May God bless all of you to have the faith to open your heart, to open your mind, to see the dignity of every human person you meet,” he said.

Something to celebrate

At the end of Mass, the people prayed together the prayer for Fr. Tolton’s sainthood cause, composed by Chicago Auxiliary Bishop Joseph N. Perry, co-postulator for the cause.

Before, during and after the Mass, gifted trumpeter and composer Carlot Dorvé rendered joyful anthems of the Baroque and Classical traditions on the trumpet.

The St. Thomas More Newman Center Parish choir and ensemble led and accompanied the singing.

After Mass, people gathered on the patio outside the chapel for cake and ice cream to celebrate the anniversaries of Fr. Tolton’s birth (April 1, 1854) and priestly ordination (April 24, 1886).

The purpose of the Fr. Tolton Legacy Society ( tries/fr-tolton-legacy-society) is to increase awareness of Fr. Tolton and the significance of his life.

More information about the six African American candidates for sainthood can be found at:

For information about Venerable Fr. Tolton’s cause, visit: