The Death of Father Tolton

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Fr. Tolton’s tombstone, St. Peter’s Cemetery, Quincy, Illinois.
Image courtesy of Michele Levandoski

On July 9, 1897, Father Tolton arrived back in Chicago after attending a diocesan retreat at St. Viator’s College in Bourbonnais, Ill. For days the city had been suffering a heat wave that resulted in several deaths and scores of people suffering from heat exhaustion. On the day that Father Tolton arrived back in Chicago, temperatures reached 89 degrees.

Father Tolton was on his way home from the train depot and was only a short distance from the rectory when he was “seen to stagger and reel and then he fell heavily to the sidewalk.” Several people rushed to his assistance and moved him to a cooler location. A police officer arrived and transported Father Tolton to Mercy Hospital where he died without regaining consciousness.

Father Tolton’s funeral was held on July 12 at St. Monica’s Church. According to newspaper reports, his body lay in state near the front of the church where “tapering candles surrounding the casket with a blaze of light.” People processed past the body and then met on the sidewalk outside and “discussed in awed whispers the fate which had befallen their pastor.” The funeral Mass began at 10 a.m.

Prior to his death, Father Tolton expressed a desire to be buried in Quincy. On July 13 his mother, sister, nephew and several others accompanied his remains to Quincy. The group was met at the train station by a committee from St. Peter’s Church who accompanied the body to the church. The funeral Mass was held at 9 a.m.

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Close up of Fr. Tolton’s tombstone.
Image courtesy of Michele Levandoski.

After the Mass was complete Father Tolton’s family and friends made their way to St. Peter’s Cemetery. Newspapers reported that the funeral cortege was four blocks long and in addition to a line of carriages, several hundred people went to the cemetery in street cars.

Shortly after Father Tolton left Quincy for Chicago, the Quincy Herald Whig published a fitting tribute in his honor. It read:

“His life is another illustration of what energy and perseverance will accomplish, he having risen from a position of low degree to that of a high church dignitary. Commencing life at the lowest round of the ladder, he steadily advanced until to-day he is one of the foremost men of his race. But whatever he is, he owes to his own efforts by hard work and an indomitable will he has overcome obstacles seemingly insurmountable.”

Last Updated on Tuesday, 19 July 2011 10:57