Here are some African-American U.S. Catholic history-makers:
Bishop James Augustine Healy
The first person of African-American descent to be ordained a priest for a U.S. diocese is James Augustine Healy, who was also the first African-American to become a bishop.
Healy, whose mother was a mixed-race slave and whose father was an Irish immigrant, was born in Macon, Georgia in 1830. He is the oldest of 10 siblings, many of whom would also enter religious life.
His brother, Patrick, entered the Jesuit order and became the first man of African-American descent to earn a PhD. He was eventually named the 29th president of Georgetown University. His sister, Eliza, would enter the Congregation of Notre Dame in Montreal and took the name Sr. Mary Magdalen. She became the first African-American woman to be named an abbess after she became superior of the order in 1903.
At the time of Healy's birth, interracial marriage was not legal in Georgia, and he and his siblings were legally considered slaves. Healy was prohibited from attending school in Georgia, so his father sent him and his siblings to schools in the north. He was the first valedictorian of the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, MA.
After James discerned a call to the priesthood, he was not allowed to study at the Jesuit seminary in Maryland, because Maryland was still a slave state. Instead, he studied in Montreal and eventually Paris, where he was ordained a priest on June 10, 1854.
At the time Healy was ordained, few in the Church were aware of his race.
Healy was a priest in the Archdiocese of Boston, and in 1875, was appointed the second bishop of the Diocese of Portland, ME. Healy was consecrated a bishop on June 2, 1875.
He led the Portland diocese, which covers the entirety of the state of Maine, during a large influx of Catholic immigrants. Healy established 60 new parishes and over a dozen convents and schools during his time as bishop.
He died suddenly at the age of 70 in 1900.
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Due to pervasive racism, Healy's ethnic background was not public knowledge. Healy, who had a lighter complexion, was usually believed to have been entirely of Irish descent.
Father Augustus Tolton
In 1886, 34 years after James Healy was ordained, Servant of God Augustus Tolton was ordained a priest in Rome.
Tolton, the son of African-American slaves, was born in Missouri in 1854. Tolton is the first African-American priest in the United States whose race was widely known to his contemporaries.
It is not known how Tolton and his family gained their freedom. Some say that Tolton escaped to Illinois along with his mother and siblings during the Civil War. Others say that Tolton and his family were freed when the war began. However it happened, Tolton, along with his mother and siblings, moved to Illinois during the war.
A priest eventually allowed Augustus to enroll in a Quincy, Illinois parochial school, which was a controversial decision at the time.