The icon of Fr. Tolton was commissioned by Most Rev. Joseph N. Perry, Auxiliary Bishop of Chicago and Postulator for the Father Tolton Cause for Canonization, who asked Chicago iconographer, Joseph Malham, to create the icon as a manifestation of Fr. Tolton's inner fire for Christ, the Eucharist and the people of God whom he served.
The icon of Fr. Tolton, like all icons, does not have an exterior light source but shows one who is illuminated from within. Being African American, Fr. Tolton was denied admittance to American seminaries but was accepted in Rome which is depicted in the red tassel on his biretta, an honor reserved only for priests ordained in Rome. He is vested in a white chasuble which signifies not only his love of the Mass but Easter joy and his immersion in the Paschal Mystery. Fr. Tolton blesses the viewer with his right hand honoring Christ; the three fingers joined recognize the Holy Trinity while the two fingers raised declare the Humanity and Divinity of Christ in One Person.
Fr. Tolton's left hand rests over his heart, symbolizing his great and burning love for the People of God who he served in Chicago. His fingers are slightly separated, symbolizing the prejudice and separation he and other African Americans experienced but which acts of love, service and forgiveness will one day heal and join.
About the Iconographer
Joseph Malham is an iconographer, writer and speaker who studied art in Rome through Loyola University’s Rome Center. He graduated with a BA in History from that same institution. Since 1999 Joseph has been artist-in-residence at St. Gregory the Great Church in Chicago. His panels and icon banners have been acquired by churches, institutions and individuals around the country. Joseph has lectured frequently at the Art Institute of Chicago and various religious institutions, on the topics of iconography and religious art. His first book, By Fire into Light: Four Catholic Martyrs of the Nazi Camps, tells the stories of four heroic figures who transcended the horrors of persecution during the Second World War through their experiences of faith.
Essay winner: Father Tolton should be a saint because ...
In honor of Black HistoryMonth, the archdiocese’s Black Catholic Initiative held an essay contest for students in Catholic schools with the topic “Why I think or believe Father Augustus Tolton should be a saint.” Read More>>
Father Augustus Tolton: The First Recognized Black Catholic Priest in America