Relative of Father Tolton’s owners shares story of family connection at drama on life of black priest

Jennifer Brinker | jbrinker@archstl.org
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At the end of a drama on the life of Father Augustus Tolton, 91-year-old Frankie Maddox stood before the audience and revealed that her husband's family owned slaves — including Augustus Tolton.

It was a huge revelation to the audience, who had just finished viewing St. Luke Production's drama, "Tolton: From Slave to Priest" Nov. 26 at All Saints in St. Peters. The story recalls the priest's life, from being born into slavery in the small town of Brush Creek, Mo., to crossing the river to Quincy, Ill., where he eventually answered a calling to the priesthood.

Maddox has lived most of her life in Monroe City, Mo., about 10 miles from Brush Creek. She married her now late husband, Bob, in 1946. She moved to St. Peters in 2014 and is a member of All Saints.

Maddox has spent years researching her husband's family genealogy, and learned that Bob Maddox's great-grandmother was Ann Savilla (Manning) Elliott. Father Tolton's mother, Martha, was Ann Elliott's personal slave, and came along when the Elliotts moved from Kentucky to Missouri. Ann Elliott also was Father Tolton's sponsor when he was baptized in the Catholic Church in 1854 at St. Peter's Church in Brush Creek. Descendants of the Elliott family have noted that Ann Elliott gave Augustus early religious instructions, taking him to Mass.

It's a stark juxtaposition that while the Elliotts had a role in Father Tolton's early formation, as a slave he was their property. There are varied accounts as to whether the Toltons escaped slavery or they were eventually freed. While the detail is lost to history, Frankie Maddox said she doesn't believe that the Elliotts mistreated their slaves, given that they were involved in their religious upbringing.

That said, All Saints' pastor Father Don Wester said there's no denying the reality of the situation — the Toltons, among the 60 slaves that the Elliott family owned, were considered property — a commodity to be bought and sold.

"You see how deep this is and why it's so difficult for us to heal," Father Wester told the crowd at All Saints after the play. "And for some of us who are do-gooders, think we've done enough. ... and how the healing still needs to happen."

In addition to her research, Frankie Maddox has spoken to groups, including a tour that came to St. Peter's Church in Brush Creek, where Father Tolton was baptized. She has made it her daily practice to pray for the intercession of Father Tolton, hoping for a miracle toward his cause for canonization.

"I say the canonization prayer every morning," she said. "That's what I'm asking for, a miracle."

She's been asked by others why she believes Father Tolton should be canonized.

After watching the drama on the life of Father Tolton, Maddox said it's incredible to think about what he went through because of the color of his skin — including being rejected by his own Church. As a child, he was rejected at St. Boniface Church in Quincy, Ill., and when he sought formation for the priesthood, no seminary or religious order in the country at the time would accept a black candidate. Despite the hurdles, Father Tolton kept his eyes focused on Christ.

"It's because of his heroic virtues and a graceful faithfulness in which he lived as a servant of God," Maddox said. "He's a beautiful example of love for God." 

>> Canonization Prayer

O God, • we give you thanks for your servant and priest, Father Augustus Tolton, • who labored among us in times of contradiction, • times that were both beautiful and paradoxical. • His ministry helped lay the foundation for a truly Catholic gathering in faith in our time. • We stand in the shadow of his ministry. • May his life continue to inspire us • and imbue us with that confidence and hope • that will forge a new evangelization for the Church we love.

Father in Heaven, • Father Tolton's suffering service sheds light upon our sorrows; • we see them through the prism of your Son's passion and death.• If it be your Will, O God, • glorify your servant, Father Tolton, • by granting the favor I now request through his intercession • (mention your request) • so that all may know the goodness of this priest • whose memory looms large in the Church he loved.

Complete what you have begun in us • that we might work for the fulfillment of your kingdom. • Not to us the glory, • but glory to you O God, through Jesus Christ, your Son • and our Lord; • Father, Son and Holy Spirit, • you are our God, living and reigning forever and ever. Amen

Bishop Joseph N. Perry, 2010To learn more about Father Augustus Tolton's cause for canonization, visit www.toltoncanonization.org.
To report any spiritual or physical favors granted through prayer in Father Tolton's name, please write:

Office of the Cardinal, Archdiocese of Chicago, 835 North Rush Street, Chicago, Ill. 60611 

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