On Saturday, Oct. 2, Most Rev. Joseph N. Perry, Auxiliary Bishop of Chicago, will preside at the pilgrimage “Walking in the Journey of Faith with the Venerable Fr. Augustus Tolton, Past, Present, and Future,” at Holy Hill.  


The pilgrimage celebrates the canonization cause of Fr. Tolton (1854-97), the first Roman Catholic priest in the United States publicly known to be black. A former slave, Fr. Tolton was baptized and raised Catholic. Ordained in 1886, Fr. Tolton studied for the priesthood in Rome since no American seminary would accept a black seminarian.


Assigned to the Diocese of Alton, now Springfield, Fr. Tolton’s first assignment was in his home parish in Quincy, Illinois. Eventually assigned to Chicago, he ran the development and construction of St. Monica’s Catholic Church as a black national parish church. Unfortunately, the church was left incomplete as Fr. Tolton died of heart failure due to excessive heat on July 9, 1897, at 46 years old.


Hosting the day-long retreat will be Fr. Fred Alexander, OCD, and Fr. Kevin Culligan, OCD, and both hope it will increase the cause for Fr. Tolton’s canonization and make his story more well known.


“Many don’t know the story of African-American Catholicism and how Fr. Tolton was the first recognized African-American priest,” said Fr. Alexander. “Those who know some of the history of African-American Catholicism know about the Healy boys, who were both ordained, but they never acknowledged their heritage.”


The pilgrimage schedule begins with confession at 9:30 a.m. for those who wish to go, followed by Mass at 11 a.m. Lunch will follow Mass, and Bishop Perry’s presentation on Fr. Tolton begins at 1:30 p.m. in Therese Chapel. There may also be another hour of confessions from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m.


Bishop Perry is the postulator for the cause of Fr. Tolton’s canonization, said Fr. Alexander.


“He has done vast amounts of research, including archives of letters that Fr. Tolton had written,” he said. “Among his many letters was one he wrote to St. Katharine Drexel, and that is in the Philadelphia archives. I think this pilgrimage speaks to the diversity within our Catholic Church histories that are unknown to so many.”


Registration for the retreat is underway and limited to 400 participants due to the size of the Therese Chapel. The cost is $25 per person and includes lunch and refreshments.


The Holy Hill Bookstore will be open during the event and feature several books by and about Black Catholics.



Walking in the Journey of Faith with the Venerable Fr. Augusts Tolton

Past, Present, and Future

Presider: Most Rev. Joseph N. Perry, Auxiliary Bishop of Chicago

Saturday, October 2, 2021

9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.


Basilica and National Shrine of Mary Help of Christians

1525 Carmel Road, Hubertus, WI 53033

Registration Fee: $25/person (lunch and refreshments)

Deadline: Sept. 25

Contact: Fr. Fred Alexander, OCD

262-628-1838 – fredalexander193@gmail.com

Fessahaye Mebrahtu

414-526-0385 – Mebrahtuf@archmil.org

Bishop Joseph N. Perry

Fr. Augustus Tolton