Tuesday, November 21, 2023


Martha Jane Chisley Tolton (1827-1911), a most remarkable Catholic woman,  was the enslaved mother of the Venerable Father Augustus Tolton, a hopefully soon-to-be canonized black American saint who, in his younger years, was also enslaved. Martha Jane is buried in Chicago, where her son Father Tolton died, in a grave with Pettis Family members. 

Martha Jane Chisley was born and raised, until age 17, in my home parish of St. Theresa of Avila in Meade County, Kentucky. She was one of the 222 enslaved people listed in our Baptism Records. She was taken by her "owner" to Missouri when her "owner" married and moved there with her new husband.

Below is a photo of Martha Jane's mother's grave, Matilda Hurd Chisley (1806-1836), in our old St. Theresa Cemetery. Recently, I had the head stone cleaned and reset as part of our new St. Theresa Family Life Center project. 


This video was made last year in Chicago, where she is buried, on the 110th anniversary of her death. 


(OSV News) - When three members of St. Ann Parish in East Baltimore sat down with leaders of the Dicastery for the Causes of Saints in late October to advocate for sainthood for six Black potential saints from the United States, they shared their personal experiences of being Black and Catholic. “One of the things that we wanted to make clear, you know, just looking at the three of us, is that we’re the last generation to have openly experienced the personal side of the white supremacy that that existed in the Catholic Church in those days,” said Ralph Moore, a member of St. Ann who has been spearheading an effort to get “the saintly six” canonized quickly. 

He said that he and fellow travelers Dolores Moore (no relation) and Mary Sewell can remember being told to sit in the back pews of their churches. “We were told to wait till all the white folks in the congregation that day received Communion first,” he said. He recalled white ushers blocking the holy water fonts so that Blacks could not bless themselves upon entering the church, but they stepped aside so whites could use the font. “We wanted them to understand that we know, and we have felt this thing, this racial prejudice and discrimination thing, and that the fact that there are no Black saints (from the U.S.), it’s hurtful to us,” Ralph Moore said.

The potential saints in question include one with ties to Baltimore, Mother Mary Lange, who has the title “venerable,” the founder of the Baltimore-based Oblate Sisters of Providence, the world’s first sustained religious community for Black women. Other Blacks from the United States under consideration are Sister Thea Bowman, the first African American member of the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration; and Julia Greeley, known as the city of Denver’s “Angel of Charity” – who both have the title Servant of God. Three others who have been declared “venerable” are Mother Henriette Delille, founder of the Sisters of the Holy Family; Father Augustus Tolton; and Pierre Toussaint. 

The Baltimore visitors had an audience with the Dicastery for the Causes of Saints Oct. 31. Cardinal Marcello Semeraro, the prefect of the dicastery, joined the meeting at the beginning and end. Michaelite Father BogusÅ‚aw StanisÅ‚aw Turek, undersecretary for the dicastery, and an interpreter from the Diocese of Brooklyn, N.Y., who works at the dicastery, Father Patrick Dorelus, met for about two hours with the trio from Baltimore. “We felt it was beneficial to have somebody who is African American as we were, but who could speak Italian and understood the way that the dicastery works,” he said of Father Dorelus. 

Ralph Moore said it is hard for Black Catholics in the U.S. to understand why there are white saints from this country but none who are Black. “When you read and study the lives of these particular (potential) saints and they represent us, it just feels like – whether it’s accidental or intentional – it feels like rejection.” 

He said they shared with Father Turek some of the background on the six, including some information that they seemed not to know, such as that Mother Mary Lange and her Oblates could have been killed for teaching enslaved children, or that Father Tolton, the first Catholic priest in the U.S. known publicly to be Black, was on a streetcar on his way home from a priests’ retreat when he died of heat stroke. He said the undersecretary showed the Baltimore visitors a wall of books containing a number of “positios,” or comprehensive summary of all documentation for a potential saint’s cause. The group brought a few hundred of the more than 3,000 letters that have been received in support of the canonization of the six. “We were trying to personalize the lives of these people a little bit and personalize what it means to not only to Black Catholics, but especially to Black Catholics, but also there are many whites who sign the letter who don’t want to be in a church where Black Catholic saints are not recognized,” Ralph Moore said. “We think that all six of them have been people for others with their lives, with their charitable work, with their courageous educational work.” 

Since there are separate groups working on each of the individual causes, Ralph Moore said one of the concerns is that each may want their candidate to be the first to break the barrier for sainthood. He would prefer that all six be canonized at the same time, but he understands that they may be done individually. “We think of them as persons for others, not persons for themselves,” he said.



Sunday, November 19, 2023



To one he gave five talents, to another two; to a third, one – to each according to his ability. Then he went away.
Matthew 25: 15

I spent 12 years of my life in seminaries. We went there to be “trained.” (Sounds like something you do to a dog, doesn’t it?) Seminary is not just a matter of passing courses in theology and going to chapel several times a day, it was also about growing spiritually and changing personally for the better in four areas. There was intellectual formation, of course, but there was also spiritual formation, human formation and pastoral formation. Each of my two seminaries had completely different tacks on how to accomplish those goals. 

During the first six years, they approached us with what I call the “dental approach.” They approached us with the assumption that we had faults, sins and defects that needed to be identified and eradicated like a dentist looking for cavities. I learned a lot about myself, especially about my many weaknesses and sins, but I did not grow at my potential under that philosophy. In fact, it left me with lots of self-doubt and low self-esteem.

During my last six years, thanks to Vatican Council II, they approached us with what I call the “treasure hunter” approach. They approached us with the assumption that we had gifts and talents that needed to be identified and encouraged. For me, it was an amazing time of great personal and spiritual growth and an awareness of my creative possibilities. I thrived under this philosophy. My confidence level rose and my abilities developed significantly during those years.

From what I hear, parenting has gone through a similar transformation. Some of you were no doubt raised in an environment where your every flaw was consistently pointed out to you and focused on, while some of you were raised in an environment where your gifts and talents were identified and celebrated!    For some of you, your glass was always half empty, while for some of you, your glass was always half full!

Others may not have thought highly of us, we might not even have thought highly of ourselves, but more importantly we all need to know what God has thought, and still thinks, of us!  In the story of creation, on the very first page of the bible, we are told that when God had finished creating human beings, he stood back and declared that what he had created was “very good.” Over the centuries, even when human kind turned against God, God has never given up on our basic goodness. It is true, that in the Old Testament, God is sometimes pictured as a judging and punishing God. However, he is also pictured as a love-sick husband, always forgiving his beloved wife who is constantly unfaithful to him, or even a love-sick teenage boy lusting for his beloved teenage girlfriend.  They say love is blind, that it doesn’t see limitations and failings, but only sees the good stuff.  Well, I believe that behavior is also true of God! He chooses to overlook our sins and chooses to focus on our basic goodness. “Even while we were sinners, he died for us!” The lost sheep is joyfully carried home. The prodigal son is welcomed with robes, rings and receptions. All the workers are paid a full day’s wages. All are entrusted with some of the master’s gifts and talents.

The message of Jesus is simple, but too seldom clearly heard. It is often hidden under layers and layers of “ifs” and “yes, buts.” I am convinced that the reason so many young people avoid organized religion is that it tends to focus on their sins and failings, rather than their talents, potential and possibilities. The fact of the matter is, Jesus focused on the basic goodness of the rejects of organized religion and society, while the religious authorities of his day always focused on their sins and failings. While Jesus encouraged and forgave people, the religious authorities tended to condemn people for their failings and withhold forgiveness for their sins. 

Jesus came with “good news” and the “good news” is this: we are loved without condition, no matter what we have done or failed to do. From there, we are called to grow ourselves, to invest our talents and to become all that we can be!  Understanding that we have a basic goodness that we can built on is essential to personal and spiritual growth. People who believe they are worthless, talentless and bad, give into their fear and see no point in trying be better. As Marriane Williamson said, “It is our light, not our darkness, that most scares us.” 

God allows for mistakes, and because of that, he wants us to take some risks and be pro-active with the gifts we have, as the parable tells us. The man who buried his talents, did not really know his master. He was scared of life. He was a coward when it came to taking risks. He is called a “lazy lout” in most translations. A “lout” is a stupid person, an oaf, a dunce, a fool, an airhead, a dumb-ass. “Lazy louts” blows every chance they get to “make something of themselves” even though they are given every chance to do so.

My friends, I hope you realize that each one of you are gifted and talented or you would not have come as far as you have! God has brought you this far in life so that you can keep “investing” those talents and see what you can do with them. For your own sake, don’t blow the stake God has in you! Your talents are meant to be developed and shared for the good of all, not hoarded away where they wither and die!   Calvin Coolidge once said, “Nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent.”  

One of the things I was adamant about when I retired was that I was not going to spend the rest of my life taking care of myself, pampering myself and looking out for number one! I believe that I still have talents and I want to continue to invest them. As a single person, I have a lot of personal freedom to do good works. I am an entrepreneur by nature. I like to design needed programs and execute them. I have done retreats, parish missions and priest convocations. What I have decided to do is retirement is to try to live simply on my social security and my priest pension and use my talents to do a few things to make a little extra money for places like the Caribbean missions and my St. Theresa Family Life Center projects. By doing things like that, I have tried to offer others interesting opportunities to invest their talents as well to build up the church in a struggling part of the world and here in our own country.  

Today, this is my challenge to all of you with your various measures of talent! In your own way, in your own state of life, using however many or however few talents you have been given, be that “good and faithful servant" who doubles, triples and quadruples the investments God has in in you! Try not to be like that lazy coward in today’s parable who buried the talent invested in him because he was too scared to make use of it. By doing so, he sabotaged his own possibility of having a full life !

As Jesus said in another place, “To whom much is given, much is expected!”