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Catholic Review of: From Slave to Priest

Item Details

Author:  Sr. Caroline Hemesath, S.S.F.

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This item received 4 stars overall. (07/07/2009)

Orthodoxy: Completely orthodox.
Reading Level: Easy

 Breanne ClarkeBy Breanne Clarke (CO) - See all my reviews


The true story of a slave who struggles to follow his vocation in a hostile country.

Evaluator Comments

Not all biographies are created equal.  Some people are able to suck the life out of even the most interesting stories.  Not so with Caroline Hemesath's From Slave to Priest.  I picked it up expecting it to be a little dry.  Afterall, the life of Augustine Tolton was relatively short and he spent a large portion of it in a small Illinois town hoping and waiting to be accepted into seminary.  Nevertheless, the story is a page-turner and easy to read.

Augustine Tolton was born a slave during the Civil War.  His dad actually escaped the plantation to join the Union army in an effort to secure the freedom of his family and his people.  He was one of the 63,178 black men who died fighting for emancipation in the war.  The rest of the Tolton family also escaped the plantation and made the dangerous journey across the Mississippi to Quincy, IL where they found a home among other poor black families who had escaped slavery.

The tension in the story arrises from the conflicting messages about race from people within the Catholic Church.  On the one hand, many fellow Catholic parishioners were extremely racist towards the Toltons and did not want a black child in a white school.  But on the other hand, their pastors and teachers were always very supportive of the family and took a personal interest in their wellfare.  Similarly, the heads of the American seminaries were unwilling to let Augustine join their schools because no black man had ever been ordained in America before, but the Roman Propaganda seminary accepted him without any consideration of his race.  For ten years Augustine Tolton was unable to begin his formal training because of politics and racial struggles within the American church.

The story of America's first black priest is one of perseverence and faithfulness.  It recounts the nearly insurmountable odds that one man overcame because he was called by God.  Get a copy of this book and learn about the struggle our American church was facing just a little over 100 years ago.

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