To where it all began
Thursday I had the opportunity to go on a pilgrimage to many of the places associated with the life of the Servant of God Father Augustus Tolton, whose Cause for Beatification and Canonization has begun.
The pilgrimage was led by His Excellency the Most Reverend Joseph N. Perry, Auxiliary Bishop of Chicago and Diocesan Postulator for the Cause, and included His Eminence Francis Cardinal George, Archbishop of Chicago, Their Excellencies the Most Reverends Thomas John Paprocki, Bishop of Springfield in Illinois, John R. Gaydos, Bishop of Jefferson City, and Francis Kane, Auxiliary Bishop of Chicago, together with a members of the Tolton Guild and of the Tolton Scholars program through the Catholic Theological Union and a four seminarians from Mundelein Seminary, together with our Diocesan Chancellor and Archivist.
I left Springfield at 6:45 a.m. to drive to St. Peter's church in Brush Creek, Missouri where Father Tolton was baptized. There Bishop Paprocki and I would meet the other pilgrims. The church is located in the midst of fields and the road leading to it is covered with gravel.
The journey there mostly followed Interstate 72, the most tedious 100 mile stretch of pavement on the continent, and gave the time to consider the forty-one mile flight of Martha Jane Tolton from slavery on the farm near St. Peter's church with her three young children. It is one thing to read about such an escape to freedom and imagine it in one's mind, but quite another to actually see the terrain she must have trod.
Having grown up in Quincy, I had some idea of the land across which she fled but the reality of what that night must have been like never really hit home. Until I drove the roads crisscrossing the land she ran, all the while trying to keep her children calm and quiet so as not to be noticed. There is - quite literally - nothing in the area of Brush Creek, not even any real physical landmarks. It is simply fields and trees, the landscape looking the same in every direction. She must have been a woman of extraordinary courage, of a courage that matched her faith.
Coming along the gravel road you round a curve and suddenly you see a large iron archway marking the tree-lined entrance to the church yard.
It comes as rather a surprise.
The present church is the third building on the site and not the one in which Father Tolton was baptized; nevertheless, the site is the same and thus it is holy ground.
|St. Peter church, Brush Creek, Missouri, the site at which Father Tolton was baptized.|
It comes as a rather unexpected surprise.
To the right of the church is an L-shaped cemetery that wraps around the back of the church with graves from the late 1700s.
The graves are marked with large stones, many of these with fine carvings, bearing the names of the landowners of the area, some of whom were also slave owners, such as the Elliott family.
Stephen Elliott owned the Toltons and is far is about two miles from the church. Martha must also have been a strong woman. To care for three young children and a husband and to work in the fields throughout the week and then walk two miles each way to Mass every Sunday is no small feat.
We celebrated Mass in the church presided over by Cardinal George. Bishop Gaydos preached an excellent homily, reflecting on the readings of the day in light of the life of Father Tolton.
After the Mass we had a small reception with many of the local residents who lovingly care for their church in which Mass is celebrated but twice each year. Each of the residents have their own tasks to fulfill and they do so gladly. Their love of and devotion to Father Tolton is quite evident.
|The Tolton pilgrims with many of the local residents of Brush Creek, Missouri after Mass in St. Peter church.|
We then made a caravan along the gravel road - raising up no small amount of dust - two miles away to the farm on which the Toltons were slaves and where Augustus was born.
|Bishop Gaydos, the owners of the site of the Elliott farm, Cardinal George, Bishop Perry and Bishop Paprocki.|
one of the original buildings remain and it seems likely that tobacco was then grown on the farm.
The grandfather - I believe - of the present owner (whose name I regret I do not remember) bought the property from Stephen Elliott.
From the farm we made our way to Hannibal, Missouri to place at which it is believed Martha crossed the Mississippi River with her children.
More to come.