God can make a way out of no way – it’s a phrase I heard often a couple of years back on the racial justice pilgrimage to Selma and Montgomery with our friends from St. Peter Claver. Those words also remind me of the life and witness of Fr. Augustus Tolton, the first Black Catholic priest in America.
Born into slavery in Missouri in 1854, Tolton’s mother orchestrated his escape and nurtured his faith. His desire to enter priestly formation was thwarted when not a single U.S. seminary would admit him; in 1880, he left for Italy to begin his studies, assuming he would never return to America. After his ordination, however, he was sent to Illinois saying, “Must I go back to America, where I was not wanted as a priest?” He persevered and later began the first Black Catholic community in Chicago at St. Monica Church, which still thrives today as a parish that is home to a number of strong and varied ethnic groups, each celebrating their unique cultures and traditions.
“I shall work and pull at it as long as God gives me life,” Tolton said of his ministry.
“We should welcome all people into the church, not send them away.”
Sadly, Tolton died unexpectedly of heat stroke when he was only 43. Today, he is on the path to sainthood.
This week, I invite you to recall a time when life took an unexpected turn. Like Tolton, did you end up somewhere you never thought you’d be? What was difficult about that? What was life-giving? Did someone accompany you along the way? How did God help you to make a way out of no way?