It is not known what inspired Augustus to become a priest or when he made the decision to enter the seminary. What is known is that many of the priests in Quincy worked tirelessly to find a seminary that would take him.
In 1872, Augustus applied to be a postulant at the Franciscan monastery in Teutopolis, Ill. His application was rejected, but Father McGirr and other priests continued writing to various seminaries in the United States, in hopes of finding one that would accept a black applicant.
In 1875, Father Wegmann learned that there was a college in London and Baltimore that trained missionaries for the “colored people of this country.” The group he was referring to was the Josephite Society of the Sacred Heart. In 1871, a group of Josephite fathers left London to establish a mission in Baltimore among black Americans.
Father Wegmann wrote to Father James Noonan, rector of St. Francis Xavier Church in Baltimore for assistance in contacting this college “in behalf of a young man of the African race, who is very desirous of becoming a missionary for the people of his race.” Unfortunately, Father Wegmann had been misinformed — the Josephites only had five missionaries and there was no seminary.
Father Michael Richardt, OFM, Tolton’s philosophy teacher at St. Francis College, was the first to suggest the Urban College as a possible seminary. The Urban College, part of the Sacred Congregation of the Propagation of the Faith, was established to train men for the missions and to promote native vocations.
Father Richardt spoke with Bishop Peter J. Baltes, bishop of the Diocese of Alton, about his idea. Bishop Baltes tried to get Augustus into the college during a visit to Rome, but was unsuccessful. Father Richardt knew that the superior general of the Franciscans in Rome was influential with the Congregation of the Propaganda, so in October 1879, he wrote directly to the superior general about Augustus.
This time, he was successful. Notice came that Augustus was accepted as a seminarian at the Urban College in Rome.