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Pope Francis decreed Father Augustus Tolton, a former slave and the first ever ordained African-American diocesan priest, one step closer to sainthood as venerable.

On Tuesday, Pope Francis met with Prefect for the Congregation for the Causes of Saints Cardinal Angelo Becciu. He authorized the promulgation of a decree recognizing the “heroic virtues” of eight candidates for the sainthood declaring them “venerable.”

Of these is Father Tolton, whose cause for canonization was first opened in 2010 by Archbishop Francis George of Chicago. In 2012, Tolton was granted the title “Servant of God.”

In March of last year the positio – Vatican document for Tolton’s cause – was reviewed and received unanimous approval by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. Now venerable, two miracles attributed to his intercession have been submitted to the Holy See for approval to then be canonized a saint.

Augustus Tolton was born to a family of slaves in Missouri on April 1st, 1854. At the age of 9, he fled with his mother and siblings to freedom in the North. He grew up in Quincy, Illinois and attended Mass often.

Discerning a vocation to the priesthood, no seminary would accept him for his race. He then traveled to Rome, ordained at the Basilica of Saint John Lateran in 1886 at the age of 31.

Sent back to the United States as a missionary, he was made the first ever black diocesan priest in Chicago. Called “Good Father Gus,” he had a knack for playing the accordion and a beautiful singing voice, known as “a fluent and graceful talker” for his eloquent sermons.

In 1897, Chicago experienced a record heatwave. Already known to fall sick often, Father Tolton died of a heatstroke on July 8th at the the age of 43.

You can view the official website from the Archdiocese of Chicago for Tolton’s cause, which includes his complete biography, videos, and other historical information about his life.

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