Live drama on first black priest in U.S. comes to Buffalo

Wed, Feb 28th 2018 11:00 am

VANCOUVER, Wash. — "Tolton: From Slave to Priest," a riveting new live drama, will make its New York premiere in the Diocese of Buffalo in May, with performances to tentatively include Our Lady of Bistrica in Lackawanna and St. Martin de Porres in Buffalo.

"Tolton" tells the inspiring true story of the former slave and first black Catholic priest in the United States, Father Augustus Tolton (1854-1897).

With state-of-the-art technology, "Tolton" comes alive in a multimedia-cinematic experience with a full cast of characters projected onto a screen behind actor, TV and Hollywood star Jim Coleman in the title role.

The production highlights Father Tolton's historical importance in the U.S. while creating a greater awareness of his path to sainthood. Father Tolton overcame incredible odds to become the very first black priest in the United States. Born a slave on a Missouri farm in 1854, he escaped to freedom with his mother, sister and baby brother across the Mississippi River to Quincy, Ill. Even there, the family continued to experience persecution.

In spite of all this, Tolton's faith was unshakable. He persevered for years in his deep desire to become a priest, preparing amidst obstacle after obstacle. Every seminary in the United States rejected him.

At last, in a remarkable turn of events, he was ordained in Rome. Upon his return to the U.S., he tirelessly served people of all races, especially the former slaves who flocked to Chicago.

Father Tolton said, "It was the priests of the Church who taught me to pray and to forgive my persecutors. We should welcome all people into the Church, not send them away."
Coleman is excited and honored to be playing the lead role.

"Father Tolton's story needs to be told," he said. "As a black man, this very important part of history is something that I want the world to hear about. I truly feel blessed to be the one to share Father Augustus Tolton with all who will listen."

Coleman and his wife, Robin, reside in Florida. They are the proud parents of six children.

Leonardo Defilippis and his wife, Patti, who co-wrote "Tolton," incorporated into the moving drama several themes from Father Tolton's life: perseverance, trust in God, unity as Christians, and deep forgiveness. 

"He studied with men from all over the world there, showing him the possibilities and hope for people of color to come together through Christ," Defilippis said. "His story is incredibly relevant even now."

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