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 (From The Black Catholic Messenger)

CHICAGO — A new documentary on Venerable Augustus Tolton features personal letters from the pioneering Black Catholic priest, to be shared publicly for the first time upon the film’s release in June.

A private screening of “Tolton Speaks: The Life and Letters of Fr. Augustus Tolton” was held in February at the Cardinal Meyer Center on the South Side—just steps from where Tolton suffered a fatal heat stroke in 1897 and roughly a mile from where he opened the Archdiocese of Chicago’s first Black Catholic parish.

An official trailer was released on February 13 for the feature-length film, the brainchild of the late Black priest, Fr A. Gerard Jordan, O.Praem. Jordan, whose reflections are included in the film, directed the Tolton Spirituality Center (TSC) until his death in September 2022.

“Initially, Father Gerard said he wanted to make a short film about Tolton and highlight some of the letters Tolton had written but had never been made public before,” director David Michael Warren told Chicago Catholic. Warren is the founder of Stella Maris Films, which created the film with the TSC.

 “There was a lot of material in those letters.”

A new documentary about Venerable Father Augustus Tolton tells his story in a way that it has not been told before: Using his own words. https://t.co/g4cqskr4os

— Chicago Catholic (@chicagocatholic) March 13, 2024

The letters are not new discoveries, having been part of the materials sent to the Vatican for Tolton’s canonization cause, which the archdiocese opened in 2010. Tolton, ordained in Rome at the Basilica of St. John Lateran in 1886, was the first known openly Black Catholic priest in U.S. history.

Born into slavery in 1854, Tolton’s family escaped bondage in Missouri during the Civil War to Illinois, where they settled in Quincy. Tolton endured various trials there as he progressed through Catholic school, eventually deciding to become a priest. (The Healy brothers of Georgia are believed to be the first African Americans to enter Catholic seminary, but did so while passing for White. Three were ordained.)

The new film delves into correspondences between Tolton and his confreres along the journey, including the priests and bishops who helped sponsor his education—including the seminary—as well as friends who helped him navigate his relatively short (and troubled) time as a priest.

Tolton died at the age of 43, having transferred from Quincy to the Archdiocese of Chicago and founded St. Monica Catholic Church. He was declared Venerable by Pope Francis in 2019, and a Vatican-confirmed miracle from Tolton's intercession could make him the first beatified African American in history. Investigations of possible miracles were reported stateside as recently as 2022.

“Tolton Speaks” is just the latest silver-screen effort to promote his legacy, alongside several books and a number of Catholic schools named in his honor. The documentary will officially premiere on Sunday, June 2, at the DuSable Black History Museum and Education Center, with details to be announced via the TSC.

The film is also scheduled to screen on Friday, June 21, during the Archbishop Lyke Conference, a Black Catholic liturgy and ministry conference taking place at the Embassy Suites by Hilton in Grapevine, Texas.

Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger.

 

 


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