At night the river looked deeper than ever as the woman rowed across it with her three small children. That was dangerous enough but they were being pursued. They were being shot at. They were fleeing for their lives.
The Civil War had just begun. The woman and her children were slaves. They had fled Missouri and were crossing over into the Northern state of Illinois, and to freedom. That night, the woman evaded her pursuers. When she landed on the northern bank of the river she pulled her children to their knees and prayed: ‘Now, you are free; never forget the goodness of the Lord‘. And, with that, one of her children, Augustine Tolton, later to become the first African-American to be ordained priest, was ‘freed’.
Augustine Tolton was born 1 April, 1854. His parents were slaves, so he too became one. His parents were Catholics, so he too was baptised into his parents’ Holy Faith. His father, Peter, was an honest and good man well liked by his slave owner for whom he worked hard. Seven years after Augustine, or Gus as he was known, was born, war broke out between the States. Peter talked to his wife, Martha, of his desire to escape and enlist in the Union army. As he did so he gazed at the three children sleeping and began to talk of his hopes for their future, one in which they would be free.  The Toltons’ Catholic faith was deeply held and urged them on to action. Martha readily agreed that her husband must go – and that some day they would all be together again, and free. They embraced. With one last look at his children, Peter headed out into the night, to the North, and to war. The couple were never to see each