Black Catholic History Month: Brush Creek Cemetery

At Least We’re Here is a book club made up of women who read only Catholic Women Authors. See us here

While researching a little about Brush Creek MO, birthplace of America’s first black priest

which we read about in From Slave to Priest by Sister Caroline Hemesath, I found this gem of a priest, Fr. Daren Zehnle and his blog, Servant and Steward.  Father Zehnle is a priest of the Springfield, IL diocese and is championing the cause of Fr. Tolton’s canonization.

One of the posts I found while digging around (mmm, I know) had this wonderful photo of Bishop Paprocki meandering through the slave’s graves, probably praying for their souls, in the Brush Creek Catholic slave cemetery.  I told here a little more about Brush Creek.

Illinois' Bishop Paprocki on a pilgrimage to Brush Creek, birthplace of Fr. Augustine Tolton

Illinois’ Bishop Paprocki on a pilgrimage to Brush Creek, birthplace of Fr. Augustine Tolton

I find it so appropriate that Black Catholic History month falls in November

which happens to also be the month that Catholics around the world devote to praying for the souls in the Body of Christ who have passed on to judgement.

Father Zehnle printed this quote from Saint Damien of Molokai (one of my children’s name saints!):

“My greatest pleasure is to go there [the cemetery] to say my beads, and meditate on that unending happiness which so many of them are already enjoying.”


Black Catholic History: Fr. Tolton and His Parents

At Least We’re Here is a group of women who read and discuss books by Catholic Women Authors….find out more here

I want to add at least a couple of posts during November for Black Catholic History month.

At least one of them will have to be about Father Augustine Tolton and his incredible mother Martha Tolton.  In 2009 we read about Father Augustine Tolton in the book “From Slave to Priest: A Biography of the Reverend Augustine Tolton (1854-1897), First American Black Priest of the United States” by Sister Caroline Hemesath.  While Fr. Tolton cause for sainthood has been open and is becoming more well known outside of Chicago where he was pastor of St. Mary’s, I think his mother was awesome (I’m sure he thinks to too)!

Martha is sent to Missouri

Martha Jane Chisley was baptized as an infant slave in Kentucky. As a young girl she was ripped from the lives of her parents and siblings when she was given as a gift to the just married daughter of the plantation owner and taken to Brush Creek Missouri. Sr. Hemesath paints an all too common scene beginning with the “slaves [being] loaded onto the cart.  Martha Jane wept convulsively at the thought of being separated from her parents and brother. No one paid the slightest attention to her sorrow.  At the moment of departing, her brother Charley, frenzied with grief, came running from the slave quarters. He jumped onto the cart and caught Martha Jane in a viselike embrace; he shrieked in desperation.  The overseer ordered the youth to leave, and when his words were neither heard nor heeded, the angered man brought his whip down on the young slave’s back.  Charley’s grasp loosened, and he fell from the cart in a crumpled heap at the feet of the overseer.  Martha Jane, catching a glimpse of the whip raised a second time, turned aside swiftly to avoid the painful sight.  Her face was distorted in agony and utter despair, and her heartbreaking moans were lost amid the shouts of farewells and the tumult of leavetaking.”

Peter and Martha: Made Perfect for Heaven Through the Marriage Sacrament

Meanwhile Peter Paul Tolton who was baptized and named after missionary priest Reverend Peter Paul Lefebre, worked in the rye fields adjacent to the land where Martha was being carted to labor.  He picked grain and worked as a handyman at the plantation’s whiskey distillery.  By the time Peter Paul spotted Martha the young man had spent many hours forming his opinion about the equality of all men and making the decision to escape the degradation.  As he happened to look  upon her as she comforted an exhausted and sick boy, “Peter glimpsed something rare and inestimably precious—Christian compassion.  It was the most beautiful sight he had ever seen.”


Peter Paul and Martha Tolton’s son Augustine was baptized at St. Peter’s Church in Brush Creek MO (this is a newer building)

Father Tolton’s Parents are Married at Saint Peter’s

In a fairy tale love story we expect to hear “they lived happily ever after.” However stories of American  slaves are rarely filled with happy endings.  After falling in love Peter and Martha were married at Brush Creek’s St Peter’s Church and were allowed to live together in a cabin accessible to both farms.  Augustine John was born in 1854, the middle of three children.  Slave family life was filled with “tension”, “fear”, “anxiety” and “terror.” Peter did not give up on his ideas of escape and Martha supported and encouraged him until finally,  “strengthened by her faith and love, Peter tore himself away from his dear ones, escaped, and found his way to the army headquarters at Saint Louis.”

Peter Escapes and Martha Does Too

In the meantime the waiting Martha became increasingly terrified by the wanderings of extremely cruel and vicious slave traders from the south who were looking for children to purchase.  She decided to escape with the children and the two older boys recalled a harrowing journey which included capture and their smuggling to the Mississippi River by Union Army soldiers.  Once they were on the water Confederates gave chase again and fired upon the family with muskets.  “Undaunted by the whistling bullets, the mother ordered the children to lie flat in the bottom of the vessel.  The baby screamed from sheer bewilderment and fright.  The boys did what they could to calm her, although they also cried all the way.  “Relying entirely on the protection of divine power, the determined mother clung to the oars and succeeded in placing a safe distance between the boat and the chagrined slave hunters.”

Struggling from hunger and exhaustion, and no doubt spurred on by supernatural graces, Martha landed in the free state of Illinois, only to eventually learn that her beloved Peter had given his life for freedom as a Union soldier along with hundreds of other freed and escaped black slaves.

Throughout the rest of her life Martha would experience so many more sorrows as she watched her son reach out to the Catholic priesthood only to be rejected.  Like the Blessed Mother she stubbornly clung to God until finally Augustine was accepted at the seminary in Rome and eventually ordained.

From Slave to PriestSister Hemesath’s story of the Tolton Family and Augustine’s eventual work as a priest in Illinois is riveting from beginning to end.  The book calls Father “Augustine” while the website for his canonization uses “Augustus.” Not sure why this is; if you know please leave a comment.

A Night in Provence–Twice

We are a book club that reads Catholic Women Authors.  Read more about it here.

Two Months, One Book and One Essay

We were meant to gather in September and discuss A Traveller in Southern France by Christine Kaferly while eating Provencial cuisine.  We got off track though when some of us didn’t pick up the book in time and others were already finishing it up.  So Celeste recommended a superb article by pro-life activist Juli Wiley, titled “Jesus’ Genealogy: The Woman Problem.”

October 2013

October 2013

Plenty of French Food

Nevertheless when we arrived at book club in September many were prepared to discuss A Traveller and had fixed up some yummy French food.

When we assembled again in October to finally talk about the book lo and behold we ended up with plenty of dishes from the south of France.

I'm sauteing some Spinach

I’m sauteing some Spinach

Laurence and Gwen cook it up

Laurence and Gwen cook it up

Laurence's Leek Soup

Laurence’s Leek Soup

It was all extremely good and nobody minded.  Laurence grew up in France and made us an Eggplant Souffle and Leek Soup respectively.  I took the fresh vegetable route and cooked up some spinach and garlic that I topped with crumbled goat cheese.

Since I have a lot of time to make up for I’ll be back soon with news of a new baby, a beloved member who moved away (mom of the new baby) and a really new baby who is yet on the way!  There might be more news I haven’t thought of yet too.  And oh yes, I will comment more on the essay and the book.

A Day With Immaculée


Laurence and Dianne on retreat with Immaculée

I flew to Sacramento a few days ago to visit my aunt.  It’s really been a nice visit. 

The Eldorado Hills area in this part of California is beautiful, and the weather is pretty much perfect right now.  The nights are around 60 degrees and the days have been rather warm but not super hot.  Unlike Colorado there is rarely any wind or rain or clouds (until winter that is).

I was surprised after I arrived here to find this photo in my email.

  I knew Immaculée Ilibagiza was going to be in Denver while I was gone and I wished I could be there to see her. 

However I had NO idea Dianne and Laurence were going to be there!

Immaculée is one of our favorite authors, considering we’ve read 3 out of 3 of her books; something we rarely do.  I think we read 2 of Sigrid Undset’s massive epics, one a trilogy (Kristin Lavransdatter) and the other a 4 volume series (Master of Hestviken)!

However we’ve read 3 of Immaculee’s books just for book club!  That is pretty remarkable for a 13 year old book club.  Last year this blog was linked up to Brandon Vogt’s Catholic Speaker 2012 post, and I featured an “Sort-of Interview” with Immaculée for that post.

I wish I had more time to add all the wonderful insights we gained from her books and appearances in Denver.  But , alas, I have to get ready fly home on standby in the morning and I have to add a post to my blog sometime!!

In the meantime read more about our Lady of Kibeho here and here.  Also see her speak about the genocide of abortion here.

So enjoy, and look for Immaculée’s new book soon: The Rosary Saved My Life.  I can’t WAIT to read that one.