In November 1887, Father Michael Weis became the pastor of St. Boniface parish. He had inherited a parish that was over $50,000 in debt and his primary focus was to put the parish in good financial order. Father Weis was angered by the fact that his parish had been supporting St. Joseph’s Church for a decade and that his parishioners attended and donated money to the mission church, all the while St. Boniface was struggling under heavy debt.
Father Weis informed Father Tolton that he was to minister to blacks only and that he should turn whites away from his church. Weis also publically declared that money put into the collection basket of St. Joseph’s by white congregants actually belonged to the white parishes.
In July 1888, Father Tolton wrote to James Gibbons, Archbishop of Baltimore, reporting that his parish only had 31 black members, but had “from 1 to 200 whites attending regularly.” Their attendance at St. Joseph’s Church caused “jealous feelings among other neighboring brother priests, of course they say the white people have white priests enough without going to the negro or as they said, ‘nigger’ priest.” He also wrote that “at first the priests here rejoiced at my arrival, now they wished I were away because too many white people come down to my church from other parishes.”
The situation became bad enough that in 1888 Father Tolton wrote to John Ireland, Archbishop of St. Paul asking if there was a place for him in that diocese. Archbishop Ireland was unable to fund a “colored mission” and advised Father Tolton to write to the Josephite Fathers in Baltimore to see if they knew of a bishop that could take him.
In the meantime, Father Tolton continued his mission in Quincy, but by 1889, he had reached his breaking point. In a series of letters written to the Propaganda, Father Tolton makes it clear that he can no longer remain in Quincy. In July 1889, he wrote that Bishop James Ryan had told him [Tolton] to find another diocese.
A month later Cardinal Simeoni of the Propaganda wrote to Bishop Ryan informing him of Father Tolton’s desire to leave the diocese. Cardinal Simeoni wanted to know why Father Tolton wanted to leave, especially since Bishop Ryan had previously reported that Father Tolton was a zealous priest.
Bishop Ryan replied on Aug. 20, saying that “he [Tolton] was in no way able to form a congregation of blacks in Quincy, which I would understand was the special mission designated by the Propaganda.” He added that Father Tolton’s mission was impossible because of the small number of blacks in Quincy and the difficulty of “stable conversion.”
In September, Father Tolton informed the Propaganda that Patrick Feehan, Archbishop of Chicago had invited him to serve in Chicago and begged permission to go “as I cannot endure it here any longer with this German priest.” In October he wrote, again asking for permission to go to Chicago, saying “I think I will need to leave here before I get an answer…on account of the jealousy of this German priest who continues to persecute me.”
In a letter dated Sept. 4, 1889, Father Tolton was told that he was free to go to Chicago as long as the bishops of both Alton and Chicago agreed to the move.