Black History 365 – The first Black people to… hold positions in the Roman Catholic church (2-for-1)

James Augustine Healy

James Augustine Healy

Augustus Tolton

Augustus Tolton

In 2016 for my Black History 365 series, I explore the obvious and not so obvious parts of American history that those called Black have taken part in. The things that we (Black people) have done other than be stolen from our homeland and made forced labor in a land foreign to us. I’m going to start this series by looking up the first time someone African-American did something and broke the color barrier in that activity or field. I’ll be starting with Wikipedia and working my way out:

I will be learning a lot of this as I go since I am a product of the standardized Euro/Anglo/Caucasian leaning public school system. I hope you enjoy learning with me. I’ll be going down the list chronologically as it appears in the Wikipedia article.

If you have any other sources or additional information for this topic, please share in the comments. I also welcome any and all comments and discussion. Thanks for reading!

For my nineteenth entry this year a 2-for-1 (Sort of a 3-for-1 with Healy having two entries):

1854: First African-American Roman Catholic priest: James Augustine Healy

1875: First African-American Roman Catholic bishop: Bishop James Augustine Healy, of Portland, Maine.

1886: First African-American Roman Catholic priest publicly known at the time to be African-American: Augustine Tolton, Quincy and Chicago, Illinois

James Augustine Healy (April 6, 1830 – August 5, 1900) was the first Roman Catholic priest and the first bishop in the United States of any known African descent. He identified and was accepted as a white Irish American, as he was of majority white ancestry; when he was ordained in 1854, his mixed-race ancestry was not widely known outside his mentors in the Catholic Church. (Augustus Tolton, a former slave who was publicly known to be black when ordained in 1886, is therefore sometimes credited as the first black Catholic priest in the U.S.) Healy was one of nine mixed-race siblings of the Catholic Healy family of Georgia who survived to adulthood and achieved many “firsts” in United States history.


Servant of God Augustus Tolton (April 1, 1854 – July 9, 1897), baptized Augustine Tolton, was the first Roman Catholic priest in the United States publicly known to be black when he was ordained in 1886. (James Augustine Healy, ordained in 1854, and Patrick Francis Healy, ordained in 1864 were of mixed-race.) A former slave who was baptized and reared Catholic, Tolton studied formally in Rome. He was ordained in Rome on Easter Sunday at the Cathedral-Archbasilica of St. John Lateran. Assigned to the diocese of Alton (now Diocese of Springfield), Tolton first ministered to his home parish in Quincy, Illinois. Later assigned to Chicago, Tolton led the development and construction of St. Monica’s Catholic Church as a black “national parish church”, completed in 1893 at 36th and Dearborn Streets on Chicago’s South Side.


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