Catechesis director explains new Father Tolton Scouting badge

      Managing Editor

Kyle Holtgrave, the director for Catechesis in the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois, was the impetus for a new Catholic Scouting Venerable Father Augustine Tolton Activity Patch, which honors the first black priest in the United States. The patch also promotes the deepening of a Scout’s relationship with Christ in the Eucharist, said Holtgrave.

The requirements for the new patch, created by the Catholic Committee on Scouting in the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois, include learning about Father Tolton’s life, visiting a seminary or religious community to better understand vocational discernment, modeling the virtue of patience (which Father Tolton was known for), and engaging in prayer. It is available for any Scout (not just those in the Springfield diocese) who wants to earn the badge, Holtgrave said.

Holtgrave designed the rubric for the patch so that Scouts could remain “really focused on listening to God’s call  and understanding that God is constantly calling us to a vocation — not necessarily to the priesthood, but He’s calling us to something, and we need to be attentive to that.”  He added, “Father Tolton’s life is certainly worth studying.”

The upcoming National Eucharistic Congress, set to take place in Indianapolis July 17-21 as the culmination of the three-year National Eucharistic Congress, inspired Holtgrave to move forward with the new Scouting patch. He noted that the pilgrimage route that will transit through the Springfield diocese (the Junipero Serra route, July 8-12)  will coincide with an annual July 9 prayer service to commemorate Father Tolton’s death at his grave in Quincy.

“So that gave me the idea of saying, ‘Why don’t we do some kind of Scouting activity where we have a number of Catholic chartered units in the diocese and get them involved with the eucharistic procession,’” Holtgrave said.

Because there are a number of Catholic patches already honoring saints and those on the way to canonization, Holtgrave quickly thought of developing a Father Tolton badge.  He said that the award will “help Scouts learn about some of the adversities that people have had to overcome, not just in society, but even in the Church.”

Father Tolton overcame more than his share of obstacles in his life, but he was sustained by his faith, Holtgrave pointed out.  He was born a slave, faced racial prejudices, and finally moved to Rome to study for the priesthood, since no seminary in the United States would accept a black man. Even as a priest he faced prejudice, but eventually his humility, zeal, reverence, and exceptional singing voices drew both black and white Catholics, of all economic classes, to him. Father Tolton’s  hard work took a physical toll on him and while still in his early 40s, he died of a heat stroke in Chicago in 1897.  His canonization cause was formally opened in 2011, and he was declared “Venerable” by Pope Francis in 2019.

So, even in the Church, Father Tolton had obstacles to overcome, specifically  the racial biases that existed in his era, Holtgrave said. “But the Holy Spirit still prevailed and never gave up on Father Tolton,” Holtgrave said, adding that Father Tolton’s life mirrored a love for the Eucharist.

“God is present among us in the Eucharist, and it just does wonderful things in the natural world because of our faith,” Holtgrave said. “And I think that’s what really drove Father Tolton to achieve his goal and understand, ‘I can do this.’

“There’s going to be all kind of barriers that our human sinfulness puts in the way, but the Eucharist will prevail, and if this is God’s will, it will prevail, and that’s what I think really comes to light with the story of Father Tolton,” Holtgrave said.

“My hope also is that Scouts learn that the Holy Spirit calls people in all kinds of ways. And when the Holy Spirit is prompting you, you can overcome obstacles to follow the call.  Scouts will also learn about the sin of racism that Father Tolton faced,” he said. “Additionally, Scouts will learn that we don’t have to take on the world by ourselves. Father Tolton found support from people who helped him on his journey not only to the priesthood, but also during his ordained ministry.

“The idea is that you try to persevere and do your best, and you never know.  And even if we have to overcome adversities like Father Tolton did, with the Holy Spirit on your side, you’re going to do it,” he concluded.  “You’re going to do wonderful things, and God’s going to bless you in wonderful ways.”