Leaving all to God with Venerable Augustus Tolton and Mother Seton - Seton Shrine

Leaving all to God with Venerable Augustus Tolton and Mother Seton

Trusting God is the “secret” to holiness. St. Elizabeth Ann Seton knew it, and just decades later, Augustus Tolton followed in her faithful footsteps, trusting in the goodness of God, in spite of worldly obstacles and injustice.

Time and again, something happens that bolsters my confidence in the goodness of humankind. But once in a while, the opposite happens.

One recent Wednesday morning, I stopped at a local gas station to fill my car’s tank. Here in the gorgeous lakes region of New Hampshire, we’re at the start of “tourist season.” I love that I get to live in a place where so many others want to spend their vacations, but I don’t love the traffic and the lines.

I was standing at the gas pump, filling my tank, when a man pulled up in his car and waited behind me. He was there only a moment before he leaned out of the driver’s side window and snarled, “Hey lady, hurry up! I’m waiting here!”

Of course I could see that he was waiting. Did he really think I could make the gas pump faster? At least he called me a lady. I silently fumed and stared at the numbers on the pump as they scrolled.

Just when the tank was filled and the pump clicked off, the man called out again. This time he said something even ruder that I won’t put in print. Astonished, I looked up at him. I noticed his greasy ball cap, scraggly beard, and … his wife, sitting in the passenger seat, covering her face with her hands. I don’t know what that man’s problem was, but he was making it mine in that moment, and he likely makes it hers more often than that.

I did not reply, but I very slowly and deliberately replaced the gas cap on my car, got into the driver’s seat, and drove away. As I drove, I could hear blood pounding in my ears as I considered the audacity of that man. What made me the most angry was that there wasn’t even a legitimate conflict between the two of us. Pumping gas takes the time that it takes, and I wasn’t making the process any longer than it needed to be.

The general rudeness and injustice of the world is something we all experience sometimes, and I know it’s a privilege that the most egregious recent example of it I have suffered was only a rude man at the gas pump. When I read the lives of the saints, I often marvel at their ability to remain faithful, even in the face of overwhelming hardship and injustice.

A candidate for sainthood who inspires me with his steadfastness is Venerable Augustus Tolton, who died on July 9, 1897.

Augustus was born into slavery in Missouri in 1854 and was baptized a Catholic. Later in his life, he and his parents were freed from slavery, but they would continue to experience racism and injustice in their lives, even in the Church.

Augustus attended an all-white parochial school and suffered the rejection of many of the families there who did not want a black student at their children’s school. When Augustus felt called to the priesthood and applied to American seminaries, he was rejected by every one of them because they did not admit black students. And yet Augustus persevered. With the help of a kind Irish priest, Father McGirr, he studied in Rome and was ordained to the priesthood in 1886 at the age of 31, the first black Catholic priest in the United States.

Father Tolton served parishes in New York and Chicago, regularly dealing with racial tensions and conflict as he ministered to the needs of black Catholics. He oversaw the building and administration of the “Negro national parish” of St. Monica’s Catholic Church in Chicago and became well-known for his untiring efforts to establish that church. He died at the age of 43 and was named “Venerable” by Pope Francis in 2019.

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, who died just 33 years before Venerable Augustus Tolton was born, is an American saint whose example of faithfulness, even in the face of injustice, can inspire us to greater heights of faith as well. When she converted to Catholicism from the Episcopal Church, she faced criticism, judgment, and even rejection from people she had previously considered her friends. When she founded a school to offer poor girls a chance at education and social training, she faced opposition from those who did not consider poor girls worthy of education. But just as the kindly Irish priest Father McGirr made a difference in the life of Venerable Augustus Tolton, so too Mother Seton stood fast against injustice and brought opportunity to those who needed it. She found her strength in trusting God with all. She once wrote:

“Keep your hearts at rest. Never can you find a surer way of obtaining all your desires than that of leaving all to God, Who delights to grant the wishes even for this life if you are full of confidence.”

Trusting God is the “secret” to holiness. St. Elizabeth Ann knew it, and just decades later, Venerable Augustus followed in her faithful footsteps, trusting in the goodness of God, in spite of worldly obstacles and injustice.

As I face my own tiny battles against the brokenness of a fallen world, I am grateful for the saints’ examples and for the reminder that if we “leave all to God,” nothing can disturb our peace. With St. Elizabeth Ann Seton and Venerable Augustus Tolton to guide us, we can aim to live as St. Paul describes in Philippians 4:12-13.

“I know indeed how to live in humble circumstances; I know also how to live with abundance. In every circumstance and in all things I have learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry, of living in abundance and of being in need. I have the strength for everything through him who empowers me.”

DANIELLE BEAN is a writer and popular speaker on Catholic family life, parenting, marriage, and the spirituality of motherhood. She is the former publisher and editor-in-chief of Catholic Digest, and the author of several books for women including Momnipotent, You’re Worth It! and her newest book, You Are Enough. She is also creator and host of the Girlfriends podcast. Learn more at DanielleBean.com.

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