By: Abigail Moore
Andrae Goodnight made a point to not only play the role, but completely be the role, as he stepped into Augustus Tolton’s shoes in an all new multimedia production at Pepsi Arena, Sunday, Nov. 12.
An actor from Hesperia, Calif. , Goodnight knew that his role as Augustus Tolton in the production Tolton, From Slave to Priest would make an impact on the Quincy community, though he did not know the impact it would make on him individually.
“It’s transformative. The more I learned about his story the more it challenges me personally to not value things you can see, but value things you can’t, because they tend to be the most important things. It also challenges me to continue to look outside of myself,” Goodnight said.
Prior to the production, Goodnight met with Father Zehnle of Quincy, who introduced him to several historical locations associated with Tolton around the area. Zehnle took Goodnight to Brush Creek, Mo., where Tolton was born, the church where he was baptized, St.Joseph, St.Francis College, St.Boniface, St.Peter, The Railroad Station where Tolton left town, the location of the river where Martha Tolton crossed, and St. Mary. Many of the locations they visited had plaques in memory of Father Tolton. Goodnight referenced how the trip around the city made his experience that much more valuable to the show.
“I had to imagine all of this prior to ( the production) so now being able to see it myself, it just gives a whole new dimension and meaning to the show,” Goodnight said.
Goodnight referenced his admiration for Tolton’s courage to persevere through difficult circumstances. Tolton’s patience, faith, and love through every obstacle he faced was a direct reflection of who he was and who Goodnight was aiming to portray through the production. The performance focused on Tolton’s life and the hardships he faced as an African American man seeking priesthood. Directors, Leonardo and Patti Defilippi, sought to enhance the truly American nature of Tolton’s story.
The story not only impacted Goodnight himself, but it attracted a large crowd to Pepsi Arena. It also grabbed the interest of a group of sisters from St. Anselm Convent, Rock Island, Ill. The group of sisters attended because they wanted to understand the story of Augustus Tolton and his hardships in a deeper way. The sisters also knew Father Zenhle, who made the trip possible for them. The sisters agreed the production itself was emotionally moving and truly inspiring.
“The first word is, convicting and beautifully overwhelming because I believe that Augustus Tolton is, I may be vulnerable saying this, just thinking about how we live the gospel today, the Lord I think is calling us to live the gospel in a way we haven’t seen before. But, it’s going to be lived uniquely and he showed us that he lived it uniquely and so don’t be afraid to do things that you never imagined him asking you to do,” Sister M. Bernadette said.
Another sister agreed that the production impacted her in a personal way. Sister M. Clemengia felt she related to Tolton’s difficulties and was amazed by his strength to continue to do God’s will for him.
“His humility in the face of persecution really inspired me. When I feel rejected and abandoned, I know that living a humble life draws us closer to God. His humility is very inspiring to me,” Sister M. Clemengia said.
Goodnight concluded the performance by thanking the crowd for showing love and support for Tolton. Father Zenhle presented Goodnight with a few tokens of appreciation ending the performance; two pictures in frames. One picture of Father Tolton himself and the other, a picture of a location they visited prior to the performance. In his conclusion, he mentioned travelling to Quincy was essentially a ‘homecoming’ for him, as he was able to experience his role in a whole new way.
“It’s been a personal blessing to me to be able to portray this dear man and know that he loved this city, he loved it very much, and so I feel that love when I come,” Goodnight said.
Goodnight has previously been involved in theatre, youth ministry, public service, radio and film. He is a convert to the Catholic faith with his wife, Cheryl and six children. He was chosen for the role by chance, after researching the role and filling out an application online. Goodnight believed he was meant to play this part, not only for himself, but so other people can experience Tolton’s story. Productions are expected to continue. Goodnight’s performance of Tolton, From Slave To Priest is a traveling production.