Filmmaker’s new movie ‘Across’ tells story of Father Augustus Tolton By Robert Alan Glover Catholic News Service

Actress Nina Hibble-Webster, right, portrays Father Augustus Tolton’s mother in the movie “Across,” written and directed by filmmaker Chris Foley of Nashville, Tenn. The short film tells the story of Father Tolton, who was the first African-American priest ordained for a U.S. diocese and who is a candidate for sainthood. (CNS photo/courtesy Director Christopher Foley) See FILM-TOLTON Feb. 13, 2019.

Father Augustus Tolton, the first African-American priest ordained for a diocese in the United States, was born into slavery and endured myriad obstacles, both inside the Catholic Church and out, as he relentlessly followed his call from God.
Nashville filmmaker Chris Foley, inspired by the story of Father Tolton’s life, has written and directed a short film, “Across,” about the Tolton family’s escape from slavery.
“I spent about three years developing and writing the film, beginning with a short article I read about Father Tolton, then I attended a talk on him in Chicago given by Bishop Joseph Perry in 2015,” Foley told the Tennessee Register, newspaper of the Diocese of Nashville.
Bishop Perry, a Chicago auxiliary bishop, who has family from Nashville, is postulator for Father Tolton’s sainthood cause, which was opened in 2010 by Chicago Cardinal Francis E. George, giving the priest the title “servant of God.”
“It was at the talk that I first mentioned my goal of making a film about ‘Gus’ — as I now call him — to Bishop Perry, but I don’t think he took me seriously,” recalled Foley.
Serious he certainly was because, said Foley, “this is a man who became a role model for priests — black and otherwise — in this country.”
Augustus Tolton was born into slavery in 1854 on a plantation near Brush Creek, Missouri. He was baptized at St. Peter Church near Hannibal, Missouri.
His father left to try to join the Union Army during the Civil War; he later died of dysentery, according to accounts Father Tolton told friends and parishioners. In 1862, his mother, Martha, escaped with her children — Augustus, Charley, Samuel and Anne — by rowing them across the Mississippi River to the free state of Illinois. They settled in Quincy.
While the family was living in Quincy, a parish priest allowed young Augustus to attend the parish school over the objections of white parishioners. There he learned to read and write and was confirmed at age 16.
He was encouraged to discern his vocation to the priesthood by the Franciscan priests who taught him at St. Francis College, now Quincy University, but could not find a seminary in the United States that would accept him.
He eventually studied in Rome at Pontifical Urban University. He was ordained for the Propaganda Fidei Congregation in 1886 at age 31 and was expecting to become a missionary in Africa.
Instead, he was sent back to Quincy, where he served for three years before going to the Archdiocese of Chicago in 1889. He spearheaded the building of St. Monica Church for black Catholics. Dedicated in 1894, the parish grew from 30 parishioners to more than 600 under Father Tolton’s energetic leadership. He died after suffering heat stroke on a Chicago street July 9, 1897.
“In the end, Father Tolton’s story is a great example of suffering, because he never finished a church he was building in Chicago and died at age 43 from heat exhaustion during a heat wave in 1897,” said Foley.
“After finishing my research, we finally started filming in 2017 — eight days total with seven of them in Nashville, and one day in Missouri,” said Foley.
The final cast features all local professional actors, including Daylon Gordon, who was 9 at the time Foley chose him to play the young Augustus Tolton.
Tennessee film locations included Percy Priest Lake and Kentucky Lake — standing in for the Missouri River — as well as Spring Hill and Paris. The Missouri location was Brush Creek.
“None of the African-American cast members were Catholic, and unfortunately there is still a small number of them in the church, but my goal (with the larger film) is to reach non-Catholics as well,” said Foley.
Local actress and budding musician Nina Hibbler-Webster plays Father Tolton’s mother.
“I did not know any of the details surrounding Father Tolton, nor his life, until I met Chris, but thought this would be a wonderful opportunity to portray such a person,” said Webster.
“We see Martha in her 30s, along with Peter, the father, who died of dysentery while serving in the Union Army, Tolton’s baby brother, Samuel, and his other siblings, Charley, who died at age 10, Augustine and Anne,” said Webster.
Webster described Martha as “humble, but a woman who experienced a leap of faith and took a chance, based on that faith and a split-second decision to run, to accomplish what they did.”
“As a Christian, I view this as a historical piece, and sometimes the only way we get a story like this out there is when someone makes a film from it,” said Webster.
Foley hopes to secure enough financing to extend the short film into a full-length feature film that would cover all of Father Tolton’s life.
“For one thing, we don’t sugar-coat his persecution in the church, and we talk about those people behind it, including (a priest) … who is — let’s face it — the bad guy,” said Foley.
“If we can finally get his story out there, I think its message will be that the church is calling you,” said Foley.
Joan Watson, Nashville’s diocesan director of faith formation, organized a Feb. 17 screening of Foley’s film and a panel discussion to follow at the Catholic Pastoral Center.
“I knew a little about it, having gotten to know Chris and his wife, Mary Beth, several years ago,” she said. “Mary Beth and I discussed doing a screening of the film here, to showcase the immense local talent we have right here in our own diocese, and to introduce people to the story of Father Tolton.”
“While Father Tolton is not directly connected to the history of Nashville, I would encourage people who feel drawn to him to pray through his intercession,” said Watson.

Lack of central authority poses challenges for Southern Baptists amid abuse

In the wake of months of sexual abuse reports and allegations within the Catholic Church, and just before a Vatican summit on the problem, two Texas newspapers published a three-part investigation into the Southern Baptist Convention, uncovering at least 700 cases of child sexual abuse at the hands of church leaders and volunteers.

The joint investigation by the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News revealed that since 1998, around 380 Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) leaders and volunteers have been accused of sexual misconduct ñ some resulting in lawsuits and convictions, others in personal confessions and resignations.

They left behind more than 700 victims, many of them shunned by their churches, left to themselves to rebuild their lives. Some were urged to forgive their abusers or to get abortions,î the Houston Chronicle reported. ìAbout 220 offenders have been convicted or took plea deals, and dozens of cases are pending. They were pastors. Ministers. Youth pastors. Sunday school teachers. Deacons. Church volunteers.î

In many ways, the scandal resembles that of the Catholic Church abuse scandals – children robbed of innocence, pastors abusing their positions of trust and authority, negligence and lack of appropriate, timely action on the part of some leadership once they were informed of abuse, the shuffling of accused pastors from church to church.

But one thing makes the SBC scandal even more difficult to track, report, and handle than that of the Catholic Church: the lack of centralized leadership within the convention, making the enforcement of reforms nearly impossible.

“It’s a perfect profession for a con artist, because all he has to do is talk a good talk and convince people that he’s been called by God, and bingo, he gets to be a Southern Baptist minister,” said Christa Brown, an activist who wrote about her own experience being molested by an SBC pastor.

“Then he can infiltrate the entirety of the SBC, move from church to church, from state to state, go to bigger churches and more prominent churches where he has more influence and power, and it all starts in some small church,î she told the Houston Chronicle.

“It’s a porous sieve of a denomination,” she added.

Linda Kay Klein is an author who researches and critiques purity culture in evangelical ecclesical communities, like the one in which she grew up. She also blamed the SBCís lack of centralized authority as part of the problem controlling abuses within the denomination.Sexual abuse was never just a Catholic problem. But unlike the Catholic structure, evangelical churches like the one I grew up in and have spent the past 13 years researching are largely self-governing. This means weíve mostly lacked the kind of bureaucratic record that might prove systemic abuse the way itís been documented in Catholic dioceses,î she wrote in an essay for NBC News.

Furthermore, she said, purity culture can force victims of sexual abuse into silence, out of shame: ìMeanwhile, when women and girls come forward as survivors, purity culture – which focuses largely on them – can be used against them,î she wrote.

Many of my interviewees and I were taught that men are weak when faced with the temptation of the female flesh and it was therefore our responsibility to protect men from the threat that our bodies posed to them. We had to walk, talk and dress just right to ensure the alleged purity of our entire community, safeguarding against all sexual expression outside of marriage – the implication being that anything that did happen, even sexual violence, was our fault.î

In a post on his ministry website following the reports, J.D. Greear, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, said that while the numbers of abuse victims are ìgrievously largeÖ.they cannot be the whole story.îIf you have been victimized by a church leader, we are profoundly sorry. We, the church, have failed you,î he said.

There can simply be no ambiguity about the churchís responsibility to protect the abused and be a safe place for the vulnerable,î he added in a blog post on the site. The post also included six steps for getting help in the case of sexual abuse, including an affirmation that abuse is not the victimís fault, and links to abuse hotlines and Christian counseling websites.

Yet the SBC has rejected proposals for a sex offender registry that churches can reference before hiring leaders or volunteers, because, as church leaders told the Texas newspapers, enforcement would be impossible due to local church autonomy.

In an essay about the abuse scandal published on his website, Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, proposed that SBC congregations undergo independent, third-party investigations.

ìIn light of this report and the nature of sexual abuse, an independent, third-party investigation is the only credible avenue for any organizations that face the kind of sinful patterns unearthed in this article by the Houston Chronicle,î he wrote. ìNo Christian body, church, or denomination can investigate itself on these terms because such an investigation requires a high level of thoroughness and trustworthiness. Only a third-party investigator can provide that kind of objective analysis.î

Mohler lamented that ìthe SBC ecclesial structure directly contrasts with the edifice of the Roman Catholic Church,î making reforms difficult to enforce. SBC churches are united only by ìfriendly cooperation with and contributing to the causes of the Southern Baptist Convention,î he noted.This report from the Houston Chronicle, however, magnifies the need for a mechanism that identifies convicted and documented sexual abusers who may be considered for positions of leadership within the churches,î he wrote.

Mohler recalled that in the past, the SBC has made reforms and ìexcisedî churches that did not conform to those, and were thus no longer in ìfriendly cooperationî with the SBC. For example, he noted, churches that affirm homosexuality are now no longer considered in cooperation with the SBC, nor are churches with demonstrated racism.

In addition to using the civil safeguards already in place, such as reporting abuse accusations and referencing sex offender registries, Mohler suggested the SBC similarly ìexciseî those churches that tolerate and harbor abusers.

Now, it might be that this crisis will foster a new criterion of vital importance for the churches of the SBC ñ a church that would willingly and knowingly harbor sexual abuse and sexual abusers should not be considered in friendly cooperation with the Southern Baptist Convention,î he said. This would not compromise church autonomy, he said, but would still allow the SBC to determine which churches are in cooperation with it.

Mohlen also condemned the ìlackadaisical ordinationî of ministers by local churches, and urged all churches to take responsibility for the men they make ministers

The trauma of this story bears tremendous anguish and heartbreak. The SBC and all who love this denomination must pray for faithfulness on this vital issue ñ our usefulness for the kingdom of Christ hinges on our response to this horrifying reality,î he added.

To be sure, there must be heartbreak and concern ñ that is a place to start, but work must be done. A long road lies ahead. For the church, for the gospel, for the glory of God, we must meet this challenge with fullness of conviction and fidelity to Jesus Christ.î

Pope meets head of Microsoft to discuss ethics in technology, AI

Pope Francis greets Brad Smith, president and chief legal officer of Microsoft, at Domus Sanctae Marthae at the Vatican Feb. 13, 2019. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

The president of Microsoft, Brad Smith, told Pope Francis that a “human voice” was needed to speak up in the world of technology today.
“A human voice like that of the church” with its values and authority, he said, telling the pope, “We appreciate your voice. We really feel this is a critical moment in time.”
Smith and a delegation from the U.S.-based technology company met with the pope Feb. 13 to discuss the centrality of the human person and the need for ethics in artificial intelligence.
During the 30-minute meeting in the lobby of the pope’s residence, Smith “discussed the topic of artificial intelligence at the service of the common good and activities aimed at bridging the digital divide that still persists at the global level,” Alessandro Gisotti, interim director of the Vatican press office, told reporters in a communique.
Smith and the president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, also told the pope that they will be sponsoring an award for the best doctoral dissertation addressing artificial intelligence and ethics.
Eligible applicants will have defended their dissertation and completed their doctorate between Sept. 1, 2018, and Oct. 30, 2019. The top prize winner will receive 6,000 euro ($6,760) and an invitation to Microsoft’s headquarters in Seattle, while a runner-up will receive 4,000 euro ($4,510).
The winner also will be invited to present his or her thesis at the academy’s general assembly in Rome in February 2020. Smith said he, too, would attend the academy’s meeting, which will be dedicated to the topic of artificial intelligence.
In a statement released by the pontifical academy, Smith said that he appreciated the “instructive and deep discussion” he was able to have with the pope and Vatican officials concerning the challenges and opportunities that new technologies and AI present.
“We were all impressed by the pope’s curiosity and energy,” and looked forward to what would come out of their “fruitful dialogue,” he said.
“At Microsoft, we are convinced that technological progress can increase the possibilities of unlocking solutions to some of the greatest challenges in the world,” but, he added, those new avenues also require thinking about ethical guidelines.
In an interview with the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, Smith said every instrument can become a weapon in the wrong hands if people are unable to come together and keep pace with technology.
“We need strong ethical principles, new evolved laws, people educated with new skills and even reform in the labor market,” he said.
Technology must always be at the service of people, helping “increase the potential of every person on earth,” he said.

Holy Rosary celebrates Catholic Schools Week

Holy Rosary students and faculty celebrated their love of Catholic schools with many different activities. Among the many activities done in middle school, students enjoy doing service for many reasons. The main reason is they are helping others One very special activity in middle school is making blankets for the patients of West Clinic. This year over 100 blankets were made. This tradition has become a very important part of Catholic Schools Week. Many of the students participated in parish events like Feed the Need and the parish clean-up. Along with other classes, the middle school also made cards for Bishop Steib to celebrate his 35thanniversary. 

St. Benedict senior named National Merit Finalist

St. Benedict is pleased to announce that senior Abbie Verret has been named a National Merit Scholarship Program Finalist. Abbie is one of about 7,500 students who have advanced as Finalist and who are being considered for the National Merit Scholarship, announcement to be made later this school year.Abbie has a score of 34 on the ACT, a GPA 4.76 and is an AP (8-with scores of 4 & 5) and Honors (10) student in a rigorous course of study, excelling in math, science, drawing and creative writing. She is currently working on a novel. She has been selected for membership in the National Honor Society, National Science Honor Society, National English Honor Society, International Thespian Honor Society, Rho Kappa Social Studies Honor Society and Mu Alpha Theta Math Honor Society. She is a member of the Key Club and French Club. Abbie is a gifted artist with works appearing in art shows and has had a presence on the SBA stage, performing in multiple productions. As active and studious as she is, Abbie finds time to be on the school’s water polo team.Abbie is the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Johann Verret of Collierville.

Letter to the Editor

It is with profound sadness that the National Council of Catholic Women contemplates the passage of the late term abortion legislation in New York now being promoted in other states of our country.   The act of killing a child at any stage of life is unconscionable but killing a baby about to be born into the world that could even be in the birth canal or partially delivered can be considered as nothing more than a barbaric act unworthy of this great nation; a nation that noted the right to life in our Declaration of Independence.  We pray that our legislators will understand the sacredness and extraordinary gift of life and that abortion is not a political issue but that there is a moral imperative to preserve and cherish life at all stages.

We believe that there is always forgiveness for those who have chosen abortion and we know that God loves them as He does all His children and hope they find the healing they will come to need.  There are wonderful options for those who carry a child but do not feel they can parent a child.  With medical advances, there are few cases where the choice must be made of one life over another. 

The National Council of Catholic Women, deeply shocked and saddened by abortion legislation and, in particular, by late term abortion, wishes to register our opposition to these laws that destroy rather than preserve that most precious gift, life itself.    


Mary E. Stewart Blogoslawski

President, National Council of Catholic Women

11 February 2019

2019 Diocesan Wedding Anniversary Celebration

Each year, our diocesan church celebrates wedding anniversaries during a special mass, giving public expression and recognition to couples celebrating their milestone wedding anniversaries.

This year the mass was celebrated by Bishop Emeritus J. Terry Steib and all celebrating couples were invited to attend. The 2019 Wedding Anniversary Mass was held at St. Louis Catholic Church.

We hope you enjoy the photo gallery from that day. If you would like copies of any of the photos you see here, or have a question if a photo is available, please call the Office of Communications, 901-373-1252 and we will be happy to assist.

CBHS presents “The Resilient Child” with Sean Phipps, Ph.D.

Thursday, March 7th @ 7 pm Sean Phipps, Ph.D. will speak at CBHS on The Resilient Child, What Does Not Kill Me Makes me Stronger: Resilience and psychological growth following childhood adversity.

Sean Phipps is a psychologist and Endowed Chair of Behavioral Medicine at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Dr. Phipps will speak on March 7th in Heffernan Hall @ CBHS.

For RSVP information please see the flyer – or look under the Events section of the CDOM website.

“A Taste of CBHS” to highlight dozens of Restaurants, Vendors

Christian Brothers High School will host a special and unique night of fun and food with its 8th annual “A Taste of CBHS” gathering to be held on Sunday, March 3, 5:00 – 7:30 p.m. Presented by Frank Grisanti Italian Restaurant, the event will give the gathering of alumni, current and past parents and grandparents, and friends of CBHS the opportunity to enjoy an evening filled with remarkable food and friendly faces.

More than three dozen restaurants, food brokers, wine and beverage distributors, and other vendors will participate in “A Taste of CBHS.”  Most have their own ties to CBHS as alumni, parents, or grandparents of CBHS students. Their specialties will be on display in Heffernan Hall with food and drink that one can sample – all in one convenient location. Other features include a wine pull, personalized CBHS stemware, A Taste of the Arts, featuring music by Walnut Groove Jazz Band, individual vocal performances, and theatrical showcases.

Among the confirmed 2019 participants are: A Moveable Feast, A.S. Barboro, Athens Distributing Co., Automatic Slims, Bangkok Alley, Blind Bear, Blues City Café, Bosco’s, Buster’s Liquors, The Butcher Shop, Café Olé, Coletta’s, Corky’s BBQ, Crosstown Brewing, Co., Ecco on Overton Park, Firebirds, Frank Grisanti Italian Restaurant, Garibaldi’s Pizza, The Grove Grill, The Half Shell, Huey’s Restaurants, Jim’s Place Grille, Leonard’s BBQ, Libro at Laurelwood, Lucchesi’s Ravioli & Pasta, Old Dominick Distillery, One & Only BBQ, Pontotoc Lounge, SAGE Dining, Schultz Glory Oaks Vineyard, Soul Fish Café, Southern Glazer’s Wine and Spirits, Sweet Grass/Next Door, Ubee’s, Vanelli’s Deli, and West Tennessee Crown Distributing Co.

Tickets to attend the benefit are $75 apiece and are available on-line on the CBHS website,, at the CBHS Advancement Office, or at the door. For more information, contact Laura Hughes in the CBHS Development Office, (901) 261-4930 or

“A Taste of CBHS” will be held on Sunday, March 3, 5 – 7:30 pm, in CBHS Heffernan Hall. Athens Distributing will be among the dozens of restaurants and vendors participating in the eighth annual event.

CBHS hires new Strength and Conditioning coach Eric Klein – former coach at Connecticut, Minnesota, Northern Illinois, and Southern Illinois

Christian Brothers High School announces the hiring of Eric Klein as the Director of Strength and Conditioning for the CBHS athletic programs. He will join the CBHS staff on February 19.

Klein has more than 20 years of college coaching experience at University of Minnesota, Northern Illinois University, Southern Illinois University, and most recently as the Director of Strength & Conditioning at the University of Connecticut. In addition, he has many years of football coaching experience at Emporia State University and Saginaw Valley State University.

“Eric Klein brings a wealth of knowledge and experience from his time on multiple college campuses,” said CBHS Athletic Director Mike Kelly. “He has coached at the highest level and led programs to bowl games and achieved tremendous training results. He possesses the character, passion and work ethic that make him a great fit for Christian Brothers.

“Those who have worked with Coach Klein have nothing but the highest praise for him personally and professionally,” he said. “He is well-respected and developed a great rapport with everyone during his visit. Our players and staff are thrilled to have him on board.”

Klein graduated from Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota, and he later earned a Master of Science from Emporia State University in Kansas. He is certified in Strength and Conditioning, Weightlifting, Speed and Explosion, and Special Strength, as well as being a first responder by the American Red Cross.

“I became a strength coach to help in the development of young people; there is no better place than Christian Brothers High School to continue with my passion,” said Klein. “It is a school and athletics program with an excellent reputation, and I am truly excited to be a part of it. My family and I are excited to experience everything Memphis has to offer. It is certainly an exciting time for us.”

Klein and his wife Allison have two daughters, Tagean (9) and Torin (6).