QUINCY – Sara Jane Gordon-Mills paused for a moment Saturday morning while walking east on Maine Street to reflect on why it was important to her to honor the life of Father Augustine Tolton on the occasion of the 125th anniversary of his death.
“We have been doing it since its inception (six years ago). I think it’s so admirable that we have a priest from this area — the first black priest — that it’s a historic event,” said Gordon-Mills, who teaches fifth grade at Holy Family School in Orlando. , Florida, but returns to Quincy. during the summer months.
Gordon-Mills and his fellow worshipers were among approximately 200 people who walked the mile-long walk from St. Peter’s Catholic Church to Father Tolton’s grave in St. Peter’s Catholic Cemetery to commemorate the 125th anniversary of his death.
Mecki Kosin, a parishioner at St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church in Quincy, was clearly moved as he shared the first reading of the Book of Wisdom, Chapter 3, verses 1-9: “As sacrificial offerings he took them for him.
“The readings that Father Daren (Zehnle) chose were right,” Kosin said. “We’ve been doing this (pilgrimage) for six years now, and it’s by far the highest turnout. Quincy has always been a welcoming community, and this was another great example.
Born a slave in Missouri on April 1, 1854, Tolton and his family were held in bondage in Ralls County.
When the Civil War broke out, Tolton’s father reportedly fled to join the Union Army. In 1862, Tolton’s mother fled to Illinois with her three children and settled in Illinois.
Tolton showed an early interest in religious matters, and Quincy clergymen gave him private lessons. He was allowed to enter St. Francis College, now Quincy University. He sought to enter the priesthood but no American seminary accepted him because of his race.
He eventually began seminary studies in 1880 in Rome. He was ordained on April 24, 1886, and the next day he said mass for the first time at the tomb of Saint Peter in Rome.
He hoped to become an African missionary, but he was first assigned to Quincy, where he celebrated his first mass on July 18, 1886 in Saint-Boniface, before being installed as pastor of the Saint-Joseph de Quincy church, a congregation black.
During his Saturday morning homily, Bishop Thomas John Paprocki, Bishop of the Diocese of Springfield, told those gathered at the grave:
“As a boy, Augustine certainly showed courageous patience when he lived in slavery and when he was mocked by his schoolmates and their parents. As a young man, he displayed courageous patience as he was denied acceptance into seminaries and religious communities, one after another here in the United States.
“As a priest, he showed courageous patience when he endured the persecution of a supposed priestly brother, who was perhaps more divided by racism, or clerical envy, or both.
“In all these difficult and painful situations. Her valiant heart paved the way for compassionate love to prevail.
Pope Francis declared Father Tolton “venerable” on June 12, 2019, the second of four steps to becoming a saint in the Catholic Church. The cause for his beatification and the canonization of his saintliness is underway in Rome. Auxiliary Bishop of Chicago Joseph N. Perry, postulator of the priest’s cause, said two miracles were possible and had been sent to Rome, where they are being investigated.
Father Zehnle, a Quincy native and graduate of Quincy University, began hosting this annual keepsake with Kosin and several others over lunch.
“If there’s anything we can learn from (Father Tolton) it’s that he was continually open to others,” Zehnle said, “he just didn’t block them. he was able not to sow division, but to bring unity among people.
Saturday’s attendance and turnout is a perfect example of that, and more.