About 100 people, led by priests and seminarians, take part in a pilgrimage procession of about a mile from the statue of Venerable Father Augustus Tolton outside St. Peter School to Fr. Tolton’s burial place in St. Peter Cemetery in Quincy, Illinois, on July 9, the 123rd anniversary of his death in Chicago.
An additional 40 people joined in praying Evening Prayer at the cemetery.
Fr. Tolton (1854-1897), born into a family of slaves in northeastern Missouri, is recognized as the first Black priest of the United States. His cause for beatification and sainthood is under way in Chicago and Vatican City.
As the people were gathering, Father Daren Zehnle, pastor of St. Augustine parish in Ashland, Illinois, said a pilgrimage is a communal journey to a holy place, that hopefully leave the pilgrims changed for the better.
Noting that Fr. Tolton would end many letters with phrases such as “in friendship” or “your friend,” Fr. Zehnle suggested that such a spirit of friendship and fellowship might help to ease the civil unrest and coarse public discourse that have taken place in recent weeks.
Father Peter Chineke, parochial vicar of Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception parish in Springfield, Illinois, preached the homily at the cemetery.
Fr. Chineke said Fr. Tolton, who lived at a time when it was “basically a crime to be black,” would not stand for the violence that has broken out during some of the recent demonstrations, nor would he remain silent in the face of persistent, systemic racial injustices of this time.
Fr. Chineke, who grew up in Nigeria, pleaded with the pilgrims to prepare for the day when they will stand before the Lord, alone and unadorned, and give an accounting of what they have done and not done in this life.
The service closed with the singing all four verses of “Holy God, We Praise Thy Name,” which was Fr. Tolton’s favorite hymn. It was sung at his First Solemn Mass in Quincy in 1886 and at his Funeral Mass there 11 years later. (70 photos)