Fr. Augustus Tolton

Fr. Augustus Tolton, the first black Catholic priest to be ordained in the United States, lived from 1854 to 1897. His parents were both slaves. He and his family eventually gained freedom in Illinois, where he was moved by the calling to become a priest. It was the Franciscans who welcomed him into St. Francis College (now Quincy University) in Quincy, Illinois, to begin his higher education when no seminary or religious order in the U.S. would accept him because of his race. With their help, he was finally able to go to Rome to study for the priesthood and was ordained in 1886.

Tolton, who has long been recognized by the USF community as an inspirational figure—perhaps because of his strong connection to the Franciscans—moved deeper into the public eye in 2010 when Cardinal Francis George in Chicago announced a cause for Tolton’s canonization. As Fr. Tolton’s story was shared, the university also pulled him nearer in different ways.

In 2012, USF’s African American honor society was officially named the ”Augustus Tolton Honor Society.” The society honors the spirit of scholarship, leadership, and identity for high-achieving African American students at USF and nurtures intellectual ability, promotes leadership development, fosters knowledge of self, and provides service to the community while upholding the university’s values of respect, compassion, service and integrity.

The following excerpt from a Black History Month lecture about Fr. Augustus Tolton, “Love’s Legacy,” was presented by USF theology professor Dr. Tim Weldon and was published in Engaging Mind & Spirit 2019-20, Issue 1…

Born into the deeply conflicted state of Missouri in the antebellum year of 1854, in the town of Brush Creek—some 171 miles from St. Louis—Fr. Augustus Tolton’s early life was as traumatic as it was insufferable. His father and mother were enslaved. Peter Paul and Martha Jane Tolton had the infant Augustus baptized in St. Peter’s Catholic Church while the wife of the elder Tolton’s master’s wife, Savilla Elliot, served as the attendant godmother. 

Now, the story of how the Tolton family won their freedom is remarkable in itself. In one reference, Father Tolton was to later tell friends that his father escaped slavery to enlist in the the Union Army while Fr. Tolton’s mother, Martha Jane, fled Missouri with Augustus and his three siblings. With the assistance of sympathetic Union soldiers and police, the Toltons were to cross the Mississippi River into the free state of Illinois. 

In the Land of Lincoln, Martha Tolton quickly moved to Quincy and, with some of her children, started work at a tobacco company making cigars. In Quincy, Augustus met Father Peter McGirr, an immigrant priest from Northern Ireland. Fr. McGirr gave the young Augustus the opportunity to enroll in St. Peter’s parish school. The priest’s support was not without local contention as, according to one source, there were parishioners who objected to a black student at the parish school. Fr. McGirr remained steadfast in his support for the education of young Augustus. However, even with Fr. McGirr’s loyal backing, an older Augustus Tolton was not allowed to study for the priesthood in his own country. 

It is here that we find the inviting subtext of Franciscan influence: How does one navigate hate? With love—with its foresight, with its action and subsequent momentum. How does one persevere—through real adversity—with the very laws of an entire country against you and with the dizzying weight of hateful glares upon you, town after town? Here, one is tempted—and understandably—to see survival as the goal. 

But greater still was the thriving Fr. Tolton sought and accomplished. Through it all, he, like [USF students], studied and graduated from a Franciscan college (now university) and in the face of prejudice, was ordained a Catholic priest in Rome, Italy in 1886. After everything he had been through, Fr. Augustus would declare: “I felt so strong that I thought no hardship would ever be too great to accept.” 

Newly ordained, he was given his first mission: return home to Quincy, Illinois. His second mission was answering the call of still greater needs in Chicago. On the South side, at St. Monica’s parish, the first African American priest in our history became noted for his preaching eloquence, in and out of the pulpit. Parishioners, locals, and witnesses marveled at his dedication to all aspects of parish life. No wonder then that he would grow St. Monica’s to some 600 parishioners as it became a storied part of Chicago’s Catholic history. 

Referred to as ‘inexhaustible’ or, simply tireless, Fr. Tolton was to die during an oppressive July heatwave in 1897 at the too-young age of 43. His example was and continues to be a never-ending gift. 

DNP Students Utilize Translational Research

Scholarship and research are the hallmarks of doctoral education. In nursing education, an expanded perspective of scholarship has emerged that involves the translation of research into practice and the dissemination and integration of new knowledge, which the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) states are key activities of DNP graduates.

“Research-focused doctoral programs in nursing are designed to prepare graduates with the research skills necessary for discovering new knowledge in the discipline,” said DNP director and assistant dean for graduate programs, Dr. Susan Hibben. “In contrast, DNP graduates provide leadership for evidence-based practice. This requires competence in knowledge application activities: the translation of research into practice, the evaluation of practice, improvement of the reliability of health care practice and outcomes, and participation in collaborative research.”

As one of the building skills for the DNP project, students collaborate in the process of a Systematic Review. In this process, the graduate nursing student incorporates education and research into a practice that is reflective of the dynamic needs of a diverse population.

One project by DNP candidate Sharon Reams Henry, titled “Building a Stronger Workforce for Nurses That Work in Post-acute Care, Focusing on Structural Empowerment and Reducing Nurse Turnover,” shed light on the shortage of nurses in post-acute care and how it is just one of many significant problems that challenge and impact health care. It often seen as the last level of care, according to Henry.

“This nursing shortage indirectly contributes to increasing demands and workload among other team members, which in turn tends to affect associate engagement, morale, and retention of those employees. As the workload increase among nurses in home health, this also impacts vacancy and turnover and puts a tremendous strain on nursing administrators and other health care leaders to find innovative ways to attract more nurses to post-acute care,” she explained.

Henry’s research supported the fact that it remains critically necessary for home healthcare providers to attract, recruit, and retain nursing staff to reduce overhead, often resulting in increased organization costs.

Said Henry, “I have worked in-home care for over 25 years and have seen nurses in-home care struggle and leave due to burnout from the stress of keeping up with the documentation and constant change due to new regulatory guidance from the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). This project will aim to build a more robust workforce in post-acute care for nurses by promoting structural empowerment, work-life balance, and a mentorship/mentee program. Professionally, it allowed me to generate a translation of evidence to a workforce such as post-acute care that is limited by gaining in-depth knowledge from research with the development of effective evidence-based interventions and the implementation of a quality improvement recommendations, that could help to build a stronger workforce that is sustainable and one that would support and reduce nursing turnover in post-acute care.”

Through this advanced leadership role, the DNP graduate becomes instrumental in ensuring health promotion, health maintenance and health restoration for society. Through scientific inquiry and collaborative relationships, the DNP-prepared advanced practice nurse continually augments and refines the science of nursing.

In LCON’s graduate programs, students perform a critical literature review in their Research and Biostatics course and continue to develop this clinical topic in their evidence-based practice course as a project proposal. For FNP students, by the time they are in their final clinical residency course, they have transformed this from paper, to a proposal slide set, to a conference-ready poster. Typically, posters are presented on campus, but because of COVID, and with assistance from full-time and adjunct faculty, students presented this spring and summer via Zoom, using breakout rooms “and patience,” added Hibben. This allowed for scholarly dialogue for each project with students and faculty.

USF Teacher Candidates Explore Lunchtime Learning with Special Needs Students

Teacher candidates in Dr. Srimani Chakravarthi’s Survey of the Exceptional Individual course are gaining knowledge and experience applicable to their future classrooms through a partnership with a special group of students at Lincoln-Way Community High School District 210. For many of the teaching candidates, this collaboration is their first opportunity to work with individuals with special needs.

The class began in spring of 2015 and runs every semester, with approximately 150 teacher candidates having participated so far. The periodic lunch gatherings, held at USF, allows teacher candidates the chance to gain perspective regarding the range of disabilities they might encounter when working in an inclusive classroom setting or as a special education teacher. Many candidates are pleased to find out just how much they have in common with students—from favorite sports teams and foods to future goals.

The partnership also gives Lincoln-Way students the opportunity to work on important skills outside their more familiar and comfortable school environment. With each meeting, the students work at forming relationships with peers, socialization, ordering from a menu, eating at a restaurant, budgeting, and paying for purchases.

After the group meets for lunch, each teacher candidate is asked to consider what accommodations or adaptations may be required to assist the special needs of the student or students in the classroom and to reflect upon any change of perception he/she has undergone about individuals with special needs.

This collaboration is much more than just lunch. It is a rich learning experience for all participants and serves to further USF’s commitment to building an inclusive community through acceptance, flexible thinking, respecting differences, and finding common ground.

Dr. Chakravarthi finds it to be one of her favorite experiences. Why?

“Many reasons. Primarily, almost all my teacher candidates feel like it is meaningful and they really enjoyed getting a perspective of a student with disability. I feel it is a win-win situation where my candidates get experience without leaving campus, and their students get to meet peers of their age and socialize, without any added pressure of ‘learning formally’ – since it is not a classroom-based experience but one focusing on communication and social interaction. I love watching my candidates grow comfortable in talking to students with disabilities and demonstrate a newfound way to respect them and note what they are capable of doing, instead of their ‘need’ areas which are apparent.”

According to Chakravarthi, candidates indicate that they have a renewed perspective on the abilities of students with exceptional needs.

“They learn that there are several nuances to simple acts like buying lunch, serving yourself, making good food choices and conversation skills as they note the varied skills involved in each act. It is a great opportunity for them to observe the students partaking in a ‘life skill’ experience while getting to teach them how to do it,” she said.

Chakravarthi and Dr. Lisa White McNulty recently co-authored a research paper about this experience which will soon be published in the International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education. The study indicated that teacher candidates showed ability to note specific strength and need areas of students that would be useful to plan instruction. There were also indicators of attitudinal shift about their perceptions on individuals with disabilities. Candidates also reveal that this experience is one of their favorite ones, and they enjoy their interactions with students with disabilities.

Facing the Unknown

During this time of uncertainty as we continue to wait for updates regarding COVID-19, it can be difficult to cope with the lack of control many of us feel over the situation. This situation is not something that any of us could have planned for or predicted, and has certainly affected the plans we have made for ourselves. Heading into summer as the sun begins to shine and the days are getting longer, it can be tempting to go out and enjoy all of the benefits of summer with friends and family. Feeling frustrated or upset that we cannot yet do all of the things we want to do is normal and those feelings are valid.

Allowing yourself to feel those emotions and not ignore them is one of the best things you can do. Acknowledging that while your plans may look different from how you imagined them, feeling sad, angry, or confused about that is okay. Focusing on the things you can control and altering plans so that you can still enjoy the summer while staying in line with the recommended guidelines can be helpful. Give yourself credit for the resiliency you have shown during this time in being flexible and adapting to new schedule and routines. One day, we will all be able to reflect on this time and realize the collective strength and courage it took to get through and feel proud.

For the 2020 graduates who are feeling slighted and upset, this is still your time to celebrate your accomplishments! Do your best to look for ways to honor your achievements; and of course, doing so while remaining safe.


Here are the facts: according to the CDC, Illinois has over 51,000 cases and over 2,000 deaths as of May 1st. There are also over 1 million people worldwide who have recovered from COVID-19.

People who need extra precautions (CDC):
· older adults
· people with asthma
· people with HIV
· people with underlying health conditions
· people with disabilities
· pregnant and breastfeeding
· homeless population
· racial and ethnic minority groups

According to the CDC, there still needs to be research done to determine best practices to reduce the number of cases. Since we are still in the midst of this pandemic, a lot of information remains unclear. What we do know is that we do not help ourselves or others by panicking or blaming anyone for this pandemic. There are new discovered symptoms each day; the main symptoms the CDC suggests looking out for are fever, cough, and shortness of breath. It is advised to continue wearing a face covering when in public and to avoid contact with others who are sick or who might be sick.

Remember, anyone can be affected by COVID-19; no matter your age, race, sex, ethnicity, economic status, or where you live. The CDC and WHO have information we can use to help prevent the spread and protect ourselves as best as we can. Simple ways we can protect ourselves from getting the virus involve washing your hands for at least 20 seconds often, avoid touching your face with unwashed hands, cover your cough, and stay home when you are sick.

To the USF community, do your best to create the best summer possible in the midst of this shelter in place – we’re with you, together in solidarity!

Routines are Important

Hello, everyone! My name is Mary Johnson and I am a counseling intern at the USF counseling center. During this time of adjusting to all of the recent changes and transitioning to online school and work, I have made it a point to take time to reflect on my experiences as well as how I am dealing with these changes.

As I am sure many of you can relate, my plans for this spring semester did not unfold as I thought they would. I have experienced many emotions including frustration and confusion due to this. Any emotions you may be experiencing during this time is okay. I have seen other people experiencing anger or grief over the loss of things such as their graduation, time with friends, and freedom to do fun things like go out to restaurants or shopping.  

In terms of how I have been dealing with all of the recent change, although eating chips and watching Netflix all day can seem tempting, I have been doing my best to stick to my usual routine. Waking up and making breakfast before hopping on my computer to get work done sets a good tone for the day, and ensures I will be productive. Setting a daily schedule for yourself with a few tasks you would like to get done can be helpful in giving purpose to each day. If there is a day when you do not stick to your routine or schedule, that is okay! Be kind and gentle with yourself, and try again tomorrow.

Approaching COVID-19 as a Community

When the Coronavirus came to town, everything changed. “COVID” quickly became a term that even six-year-olds started using… “Mommy, when COVID is over, can I play with the neighbors again?” And like every other school, business and family out there, the University of St. Francis also had to make some big adjustments, including moving in-person classes to an online format.

At University of St. Francis, online learning was already taking place in the graduate program arena, so the challenge was to get the undergraduate students, who were used to meeting face-to-face, into the online space. Thankfully, the USF Department of Academic Technology and Information Technology teams were at the ready to provide teachers with the instructions and help needed to make this kind of transition possible, and their quick action and hard work is paying off as our students continue to learn… just from home.

Assistant professor Dr. Bonnie Covelli from the College of Business & Health Administration is proud of how her college has adapted to the changes over the past month.

“Our team has a long history of delivering curriculum online; however, not all courses are designed in this modality. The motion never stopped to support our students in this new reality. Not once did I hear someone say, ‘I can’t do it,’ or ‘it won’t work.’ Those who were more experienced jumped in to help others,” she said.

Audrey Davis in USF’s Social Work Department also felt proud of the way her colleagues helped each other and made the transition an easy one.

“It’s great to be part of department committed to meet the needs of our students during this time of uncertainty, she said. “The swift transition to online course delivery has been an adjustment to both faculty and students, but I’m proud to say that we are adapting well to our present ‘normal.’ Classes have been held in Teams and Zoom, registration has continued as previously scheduled, and some faculty hold virtual office hours using Conference. Students have worked with peers in virtual breakout groups during class and student feedback in these cases are quite inspiring. I am proud to be part of the Social Work Department and to work with such wonderful students!”

Dr. Sudipta Roy, associate professor of finance, has found great success holding class sessions at scheduled times using Canvas Conferences (aka BigBlueButton).

“I would say it’s been a pretty seamless transition, especially since my students were already familiar with BBB from us having used it earlier in the semester. Based on my observation, I think students really like the interactive whiteboard,” she said.

And some classes have been having fun while navigating unknown territory… literally. (Well, in a virtual sense, anyway!) In English professor Karen Duys’ literature class, students used Zoom to go on Google Maps together to get a bird’s eye view of the Old City of Jerusalem. 

Said Duys, “We used Street View to wander through the the city’s souk in the footsteps of Mr. Mani, the protagonist of the Israeli novel by Yehoshua I’m teaching. We ended up on the Temple Mount and went inside the Dome of the Rock where Abraham is said to have almost sacrificed Isaac, a narrative that the novel turns every which way. Although we tend to experience what we read, it is hard to do so when you don’t know the setting. We remedied that problem, soaring over the city and, each one of us with our small screen, and pushing our way through crowded passages, skipping up steps, turning down narrow lanes, passing under graceful arches, and getting deliciously lost.”

Two days later, Duys enthusiastically reported in a follow-up message… “Yeah!  Today we walked down the Via Dolorosa where Jesus carried the cross!”