June 12: (Saint) Tolton

First, a confession. Every single time I go to church, I count the number of “minorities” in the space. I am always disappointed that the majority of attendees are white; sometimes, they are all white. I grew up in a diverse community, but I didn’t know a single black person who attended a Catholic church. When the Hispanic Catholic church in town was asked to merge with our Italian-American parish, it at first caused quite a stir. Why are we not integrated in our faith, I keep asking myself.

One day on NPR, I heard a deacon speak. His name is Deacon Harold Burke-Sivers. He is black and he wrote a book about Fr. Augustine Tolton, a former slave who became the first black priest in the United States. Why hadn’t I heard of either of these men before? Now that I finally had, I couldn’t stop thinking about either of them and their challenges within the Church.

Imagine my surprise and joy this morning when I read that Pope Francis is advancing Fr. Tolton for sainthood. From the article:

Despite rampant racism and discrimination, he became one of the city’s most popular pastors, attracting members of both white and black Catholic communities. He spearheaded the building of St. Monica Church for black Catholics and worked tirelessly for his congregation in Chicago, even to the point of exhaustion. On July 9, 1897, he died of heatstroke on a Chicago street at the age of 43.

He was known for persevering against all odds in pursuit of his calling and quietly devoted himself to his people, despite great difficulties and setbacks.

Carol Glatz, Catholic News Service

You can read more about Fr. Tolton in the article and in the deacon’s book. God bless Fr. Tolton, hopefully soon to be St. Tolton!

Monday, April 1: Who you callin’ fool, fool?

The first of April is one of those days that you either love or hate. When I was a kid, I loved it. I remember one time I woke up very early to spread bright blue toothpaste on the inside of our bathroom sink. Now that was funny. As I got older, I realized that some of the stuff I thought was hilarious was actually kind of dumb and immature. And then I was horrified to find that some adults still thought they were funny.

The truth is, I am terrified of looking like a fool, so I am especially careful not to try to fool anyone else. In other words, I am no fun when it comes to practical jokes.

The patron saint for today doesn’t seem like he messed around either. St. Hugh of Grenoble lived in the late 1000s and early 1100s. He served as a bishop in France for just two years before he got fed up and tried fading into a monastery. But the pope had other plans for him.

At the time, the Church was a bit of a mess. As Franciscan Media tells it, “Corruption seemed to loom in every direction: the buying and selling of Church offices, violations of clerical celibacy, lay control of Church property, religious indifference and/or ignorance.” Does any of this sound familiar?

The pope entrusted Hugh to fix up some of the problems. “Hugh was reasonably effective in the role of reformer—surely because of his devotion to the Church but also because of his strong character,” Franciscan Media notes. For his work, Hugh was canonized a saint just two years after his death in 1132.

Reading about St. Hugh, a couple of things come to mind. First of all, why aren’t we praying 24/7 to this guy? He appears to have lived through a time that, morally, was similar to ours, and he remained steadfast in his commitment to God. Second of all, why does the Church seem to get out of whack every so often? I know what you may be thinking: If a woman was running this outfit, we wouldn’t have so much trouble. That may very well be true. But the fact of the matter is that anyone who is running Christ’s church should be doing it honorably.

So what’s the answer? I don’t know. But maybe St. Hugh does.