‘Tolton: From Slave to Priest’ set for regional debut

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As part of Black Catholic History Month, the Diocese of Arlington's Office of Multicultural Ministries is co-sponsoring four days of performances chronicling the life of Father Augustus Tolton, a former slave from Missouri who became a priest and who is under consideration for canonization.  The one-man play is free and will be held at Bishop Ireton High School in Alexandria Nov. 15-18.

“With lots of buzz about this play, we thought that bringing it to the diocese would be an excellent way to raise awareness of his life and works, help further his cause for canonization and inspire anyone who has faced adversity,” said Bridget Wilson , diocesan Multicultural Ministries program specialist. 

Ordained in 1886, Father Tolton is recognized as the first diocesan priest of African descent. After the outbreak of the Civil War, his mother escaped with her children from slavery in Brush Creek, Mo., to Quincy, Ill. With the help of a local priest, Father Peter McGirr, Tolton received a Catholic school education despite the outcry of those who objected to his being taught in a classroom with white students. In 2011, the cause for Father Tolton’s canonization was opened officially.

Father Tolton’s arduous path to the priesthood involved rejection by every seminary in the United States that he applied to; an obstacle that was overcome when he studied in Rome instead.

Jim Coleman, the actor who has played Father Tolton since January, has crisscrossed the United States, performing more than 80 times in numerous cities to positive acclaim.

“Father Tolton’s story needs to be told,” said Coleman, in a press release for the play. “As a black man, this very important part of history is something that I want the world to hear about. I truly feel blessed to be the one to share Father Augustus Tolton with all who will listen.”

Coleman, who has appeared on the big screen with household names such as Morgan Freeman and Michael Douglas, also credits the producer and writer of the play, Leonardo and Patti Defilippis, for convincing him to give this multimedia live production a try.

“Their faith just pushed me toward it,” Coleman said.

The Defilippis’ Saint Luke Productions has staged other multimedia productions centered on the lives of saints such as St. Maximilian Kolbe, St. Therese of Lisieux and St. John Vianney. 

Tickets are free, but it is recommended to reserve seats early for the November performances co-sponsored by the Diocese of Arlington and the Archdiocese of Washington and held at Bishop Ireton. Go to: www.arlingtondiocese.org/tolton.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2018