"My appointed time draws near; ... I shall celebrate the Passover with my disciples." (Mt 26:14—27:66)
Fr. McGirr asked Augustine Tolton, one born in slavery and now free, this profound question, "How would you like to be a priest?" Tolton responded, "You mean, Father, I can be a priest? I am a Negro, and I can be what you are? Father, do you really think that I can be a priest?" This dialogue is infuriating. What caused Tolton to believe he could not be a priest in the Roman Catholic Church? Did not seeing a Black priest in the United States blur his vision?
In a poem titled, No Images, William Waring Cuney illustrates an intriguing thought. Cuney writes, "She does
not know her beauty, she thinks her brown body has no glory. / If she could dance naked under palm trees and see her image in the river, she would know. / But there are no palm trees on the street, / and dish water gives back no images." A stark reality reveals what prevented Tolton from seeing himself as a priest. Through slavery, many individuals learned that their brown bodies had no glory, and enslavers did not like enslaved people expressing joy. And the minimal jobs people of color held, such as picking cotton and domestic jobs, provided no image for them to see their Image of God.
Fortunately, Fr. McGirr helped Augustine Tolton to see his glory, the Image of God. Fr. McGirr knew the time had come for a Negro priest to be present in the United States. He shared with Augustine that there are Black priests in Africa and that he would help him be an ordained priest to celebrate the Holy Eucharist. Today, Venerable Fr. Augustine Tolton, who broke through many layers of racism in the Catholic Church, will soon be Saint Augustine Tolton.
On this Psalm Sunday, remember our priests of all shades as they continue celebrating the Holy Eucharist. As Jesus celebrated the Passover years ago with the disciples, we should embrace our priests who celebrate the Holy Eucharist daily.
Can you help someone today to embrace their calling?
**Fr. Augustus Tolton quotes from From Slave to Priest Author Sister Caroline Hemesath.
Author: Evang./Prof. Michael Howard, MACS,
Facilitator, University of Dayton, VLCFF,
The University of Notre Dame, McGrath Institute, STEP Online,
Lead Faculty and Course Designer "The Presence of Black Catholics in the Church Today and Tomorrow" Loyola Marymount University,
Founder of Eat the Scroll Ministry