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Saturday, February 21, 2009

Follow Up to the Fr. Tolton Article

After posting THIS ARTICLE on Fr. Augustine Tolton, I received an email from Fr. David Streit, S.V.D. in Rome. It seems the article stirred some memories and he wrote me the following, which I post here with his permission...

"Reading your story on Fr. Tolton brought back memories
for me, since the Divine Word Missionaries have been in
charge of St. Elizabeth's (St. Monica's) parish in Chicago
for generations.

I spent my time as a deacon at St. Elizabeth's. The church
at the time (since replaced) was a converted hall. The rectory
was the closest thing to a slum I have ever seen in my life, full
of cockroaches and rats. Many of the people in the parish lived
in a series of truly appalling low income high rise buildings
called the 'Robert Taylor Homes' (since demolished by the
City of Chicago). I remember sweating blood at the thought
of going to visit sick people in those awful buildings.

The neighborhood was in really poor shape, but the
Black Catholic community of St. Elizabeth's had a collective
memory of Fr. Tolton and were proud of him.

The Divine Word Missionaries (SVD) were the first congregation
in the U.S. 'post Tolton' to accept Black candidates for the
priesthood and religious life. Our pioneering seminary,
St. Augustine's in Bay St. Louis, MS, was founded in
the 1920s by stubborn German SVDs who didn't let
a little thing like the prevailing racism keep them from admitting
and training Black candidates from all over the South and the
The attached pictures show the first four Black SVDs who
were ordained on May 23, 1934. They were Fr. Vincent Smith, SVD,
Fr. Francis Wade, SVD, Fr. Maurice Rousseve, SVD, and
Fr. Anthony Burgess, SVD. Shortly after, Bro. Vincent Webb, SVD
professed his vows as the fist Black religious Brother. He just died
a few years ago after 68 years as an SVD Brother. Our Holy Spirit
Sisters (SSpS) were among the first Sisters to open and teach in
Black schools in Louisana, Mississippi and Arkansas. The very first
congregation founded by African American women were the
Oblate Sisters of Providence, founded in Baltimore in 1821.
They pre-dated Fr. Tolton by 50 years. (Picture below)

The 4 Black SVDs pictured below are usually called the first African
American men ordained as priests, but I believe that what is really
meant is that they were the first ones ordained in the U.S. (as the article
mentioned, Fr. Tolton was ordained in Rome.)

Since then, about 100 of the African American priests in
the U.S. have either been SVDs or had their training with SVDs
and later were incardinated in dioceses as things opened up.
At least seven African American SVDs have been appointed
as Bishops in the U.S.

February is Black History month, and it's a good time to
remember Fr. Tolton and those courageous men and women who followed him."

Fr. Dave Streit, SVD

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