After arriving in Quincy, Illinois, Martha, Augustus, and Charley began working at the Herris Tobacco Company where they made cigars. After Charley’s death at a young age, Augustine met Father Peter McGirr, an Irish Immigrant priest, from Fintona, County Tyrone who gave him the opportunity to attend St. Peter’s parochial school during the winter months when the factory was closed.
The priest’s decision was controversial in the parish. Although abolitionists were active in the town, many of Father McGirr’s parishioners objected to a black student at their children’s school. McGirr held fast and allowed Tolton to study there. Later Tolton continued studies directly with some priests.
Despite McGirr’s support, Tolton was rejected by every American seminary to which he applied. Impressed by his personal qualities, McGirr continued to help him and enabled Tolton’s study in Rome. Tolton graduated from St. Francis Solanus College (now Quincy University) and attended the Pontifical Urbaniana University, where he became fluent in Italian as well as studying Latin and Greek.
Father Tolton was ordained on April 24, 1886 in Saint John Lateran by Cardinal Giovanni Parocchi, and celebrated his first Mass in Saint Peter’s Basilica. Expecting to serve in an African mission, he had been studying its regional cultures and languages, but after his ordination, instead was told that he would be needed in America to minister to the communities of African-American Catholics there.
He was assigned to his home diocese in Illinois as pastor of the Church of Saint Joseph in Quincy. Under Tolton’s leadership, the church grew to capacity and included white parishioners. This angered a Quincy clergy leader, who urged Tolton to minister only to black members or leave. In 1889 Tolton requested reassignment to Chicago, accompanied by his mother, sister and 19 of his Quincy parishioners. (Read more.)Share