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Play about Venerable Father Tolton to be presented in this archdiocese

“Tolton: From Slave to Priest,” a national touring theater production based on the life of Venerable Father Augustus Tolton, the first recognized African American priest in the United States will be staged twice during the first week of February at several locations in The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington.

The one-man play stars Jim Coleman, who portrays Father Tolton at all ages and stages of the priest’s life. Coleman has performed the role in more than 26 states, including previously in this archdiocese.

Venerable Father Augustus Tolton, who was formerly enslaved, was baptized and reared Catholic. He was refused admission to every Catholic seminary in the United States, and prepared for the priesthood in Rome. He was ordained there at the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran on Easter Sunday, 1886.

He was first assigned to his adopted home town of Quincy, Ill., where as an 8-year-old boy, he and his family fled to from slavery in neighboring Missouri. There, he developed a reputation for his preaching and his outreach to Catholics of all races and to Black Protestants.

Father Tolton later transferred to Chicago, and led the development and construction there of St. Monica’s Catholic Church as a Black Catholic "National Parish Church.” It was completed in 1893. His success at ministering to Black Catholics quickly earned him national attention within the Catholic hierarchy.

“Good Father Gus,” as many called him, was known for his eloquent sermons, his beautiful singing voice, and his talent for playing the accordion. Father Tolton died in 1897 and was declared venerable by Pope Francis in 2019. 

“Tolton: From Slave to Priest,” will be presented in this archdiocese as follows:

Feb, 3, 2 p.m. at St. Joseph Largo Catholic Church, 2020 St. Joseph Drive, Upper Marlboro, Maryland. Admission is $10 for adults and $5 for persons 16 and younger.

Feb. 4, 7 p.m. at St. Mary of the Mills Parish’s Keesler Center, 114 St. Mary’s Place, Laurel, Maryland. Admission is a free-will offering.

Feb. 8, 7 p.m. St. Joseph Catholic School’s Holy Family Room, 11007 Montgomery Road, Beltsville, Maryland. Admission is $10.