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Bishop recounts discrimination suffered by first black US priest

May 27, 2010

In an interview with Chicago Public Radio, Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Perry recounted the discrimination suffered by Father Augustus Tolton (1854-97), the first African-American diocesan priest in the United States.

“Even though Tolton was at the top of his class, racism at the time prevented him from getting into an American seminary,” said Bishop Perry, who is serving as the postulator of his cause for canonization. “When he was 26, some Franciscans convinced a seminary in Rome to admit him. That’s where he became a priest.”

“But the cardinal in Rome sent him back to Quincy in 1886 to serve a black parish there. The cardinal’s words were this. He says America titles itself to be the most enlightened nation. If that is the case, then they should be ready to receive a black priest.”

Bishop Perry said that 1,500 people, 1,000 of them white, attended Father Tolton’s first Mass in Quincy, Illinois. After a white priest became jealous of his popularity, however, Father Tolton was transferred to Chicago, where he was put in charge of a parish for African-Americans.


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