Celebrating saints with African heritage

Fr. Augustus Tolton's grave marker in St. Peter's Cemetery in Quincy, Ill./Photo: Sullijo/Public Domain.
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February is Black History Month. Take some time to learn about two prominent black Catholics. One is the patron saint of African-Americans, and the other is an American priest who is being considered for sainthood.


St. Benedict the Moor/Photo: Public Domain.

St. Benedict the Moor (1526–1589) 

Feast day: April 4 

Born in Sicily, St. Benedict the Moor’s parents were Ethiopian slaves and pious Christians. Because of their faithfulness, their master freed St. Benedict (the couple’s first-born child). At a young age, he joined a group of hermits. He later became a lay Franciscan brother and worked as a cook at St. Mary’s convent near Palermo. Despite not being able to read or write, he was appointed superior of the convent. After his service as a superior, he became a novice master, but he asked to be relieved of those duties and return to his former position as a cook. A holy man, he had a reputation for miracles, and his fame as a confessor attracted visitors who wanted to see him. Canonized in 1807, he is the patron saint of African-Americans. The surname “the Moor” is from the Italian il moro (the black).


Fr. Augustus Tolton/Photo: Public Domain.

Fr. Augustus Tolton (1854–1897)

Augustus Tolton was the first Roman Catholic priest in the United States publicly known to be black when he was ordained in 1886. He was born a slave in Missouri, but during the Civil War, he escaped with his mother and siblings to the free state of Illinois.

Fr. Peter McGirr, an Irish immigrant priest, helped Fr. Tolton receive schooling during the winter months and also gave Fr. Tolton the opportunity to go to Rome and become a priest. Fr. Tolton was assigned to serve in Chicago, where he established and administered a Negro national parish called St. Monica’s Catholic Church. He was colloquially known as “Good Fr. Gus” and was notable for his singing voice, eloquent speech, and his ability to play the accordion. Fr. Tolton is currently being considered for sainthood. His official designation is Servant of God, Fr. Augustus Tolton.

For more information about his cause for canonization, visit ToltonCanonization.org. 


St. Benedict the Moor, pray for us!

Fr. Augustus Tolton, pray for us!

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