4 African American Candidates for Sainthood You Might Not Know
November is Black Catholic History Month, during which we give special recognition to the contributions of Catholics of African descent. Northern Africa had great importance of the early Church, and some of our most well-known saints, including St. Augustine, St. Monica, St. Martin de Porres, St. Felicity, and St. Perpetua, were African or of African descent. Despite the importance of black Catholics throughout Church history, however, African American Catholics have faced discrimination and hardship. Through all these challenges, they have remained faithful children of God. Today, there are about 3 million African American Catholics in the United States.
As we celebrate Black Catholic History Month, get to know these four African American candidates for sainthood who continued to serve God in the face of great challenges.
Elizabeth Lange was born in a French-speaking community in Cuba around the year 1794 and moved to Baltimore in the early 1800s. At the time, there was no opportunity for Elizabeth to follow her vocation to the religious life because of her skin color. She opened a school for African American children in Baltimore. Eventually, in 1829, her work led her to found the Oblate Sisters of Providence, the first congregation of African American women in Church history. Elizabeth took the religious name of Mary, and she and the sisters of her congregation provided education, housed orphans, and cared for the sick and elderly. Today, the Oblate Sisters of Providence continue this good work.
Born as a free woman of color in New Orleans, Henriette Delille went on to found the Sisters of the Holy Family in 1842. Henriette was deeply spiritual and devoted to the conversion and pastoral care of black residents of New Orleans. Her congregation nursed the sick, served the poor, provided education, and cared for the elderly, with a particular focus on slaves. The work of the Sisters of the Holy Family continues to this day.
Pierre Toussaint was born a slave in Haiti and was brought to New York as a young man. He lived a life of extraordinary charity and even supported his master’s widow by working as a hairdresser. Pierre was freed on the widow’s death. Shortly afterward, he married Juliette Noel, and together, the couple took in orphans, cared for the sick, and purchased the freedom of dozens of slaves. Throughout his life, Pierre was known for giving away what he had to those who were most in need.
Father Augustus Tolton was born a slave in Missouri and escaped with his family to freedom in Illinois. When Augustus began discerning a vocation to the priesthood, his parish priests encouraged him, but no seminary would accept him. The parish priests began educating him themselves, and finally, Augustus was accepted to Franciscan College, and then to the college of the Propaganda Fidei in Rome. He was ordained in 1886, becoming one of the first black priests in the United States. Father Tolton went on to become a renowned preacher and a groundbreaking minister for black Catholics in Chicago.