Is Sainthood On Horizon For African-American Priest With Ties To Chicago?

(CBS) — This Sunday, the Roman Catholic church will do something it’s never done before: elevate two popes, at the same time, to sainthood.

As CBS 2 Chief Correspondent Jay Levine reports, if some Chicagoans have their way there would be another elevation in the not-too-distant future.

Some day Chicagoans could make the pilgrimage to Rome to celebrate the canonization of one of their own.

Because the cause for Augustus Tolton, the first African-American priest in Chicago or anywhere else in America, is picking up steam.

“He essentially started the ministry of the church to African Americans in this country — he’s the first,” Joseph Perry says.

Missouri birth records show Tolton was born a slave to Steven Elliot and was later sought by escaped-slave hunters. He escaped to Illinois and life as a good student and aspiring priest, but was forced to study in Rome when seminaries here turned him down.

After being ordained at St. Peter’s he was sent back to Illinois, he ran afoul of his bishop by pastoring to a flock of both blacks and whites who chose to worship together.

“He got to see the good and bad in people and that maintained his faith, the faith that he could rise and become a priest and a serve God’s people here in Chicago,” says John Treanor, archivist for the Archdiocese of Chicago.

Father Tolton died at age 43 more than 100 years ago, which is why it’s tougher to discover records or elicit the groundswell of support that helped John Paul II and John XXIII speed to sainthood.

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