COLUMBIA — A naming committee has announced Columbia's first Catholic high school will be named after Father Augustine Tolton, a priest who was born into slavery in 1854 in Missouri and who was ordained in Rome.
Robert Nolke, the future school's interim administrator, said in a statement, "We are honored that he came from our local diocese."
Tolton was born in Ralls County and was the first black Catholic priest in America whose heritage was publicly known.
The Diocese of Jefferson City announced in February that the school would have to delay its projected opening date of September 2010 because of fundraising challenges.
Father Augustine Tolton Regional Catholic High School intends to take no more than 200 students during its first year but plans to accommodate as many as 400 after construction is complete, according to previous Missourian reports.
Columbia is the largest city in the Jefferson City diocese without its own Catholic high school. Students at Columbia Catholic School, an elementary school for kindergarten to eighth grade, have a choice of continuing with Catholic education in Jefferson City or attending public or private school in Columbia.
According to the school's statement, as a child in the Civil War, Tolton escaped to Illinois with his mother and two siblings while his father joined the Union Army.
Tolton was rejected by the American seminaries to which he applied because of his race but was accepted by the Urban College in Rome. He was ordained in the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome, and celebrated his first Mass in St. Peter's Basilica. In the U.S., he served as a priest in Quincy, Ill., and Chicago, until his death in 1897.