by his Great Grandniece Eileen Quinn Knight, Ph.D.
As a young family in the 50’s my parents introduced us to the work of our uncle, Msgr. Bernard J. Quinn by bringing us out to the orphanage called, Little Flower, in Wading River, Long Island, New York. My parents were recent graduates of Notre Dame and St. Mary’s Notre Dame and wanted their children to understand the depth and breadth of the Catholic Church. We attended Corpus Christi school and went to Mass each Sunday and then out to Wading River where we did jobs around the orphanage. We believed that the Catholic Church was more than just belonging to a parish. We were globalist from our earliest days as modeled by our Uncle and our wonderful Pope Francis.
Msgr. Quinn was ordained for the diocese of Brooklyn on June 1912. He started a club called “The Colored Catholic Club” in order to serve the Black Catholics there. From 1918-1919 he was assigned to serve the World War I soldiers in France. He did so and said Mass several times at the home of Therese of Lisieux. In 1920 he received permission to serve his Black Catholics in Brooklyn.
I remember in grade school thinking what a great act he did and how brave he was. I wanted to follow in his footsteps. He took homeless children out to Wading River and served them through education and spiritual development. In my own neighborhood there weren’t many Black Catholics but they were always talked about with respect in our household. When we traveled to our home in Florida we met some of the discrimination that Black people seemed to endure. I didn’t get the idea of having separate wash rooms, separate places in our township and other horrid discrimination practices. My uncle never participated in the discrimination. Our home was often targeted with burning crosses because we loved all people. He was a man who had a deep sense that Christ was alive in every person he met. I often prayed the novena he wrote for St. Therese of Lisieux on my way to school or coming home. I prayed to Msgr. Quinn as I knew that he loved God a great deal and I wanted to be like that.
In high school, I remember thinking that Father Quinn must have been politically a democrat. I studied what the difference between democrat and republican was. I realized that I needed to be a democrat to do the things Father Quinn did I found out that he opposed the KKK on many occasions and even when his orphanage was burned down by the Klan he re-built it. I knew I wanted to be a person who included all. The children from the orphanage did well and showed their love by the way they treated others.
Teaching on the Southside of Chicago at a University who honored minorities, I felt that I was following the legacy he left. Although I was primarily working with college minority students, I became involved in both grade schools and high schools to help teachers to teach as Jesus did, accepting and loving all. I found students a place to live and schools in which to teach. I was proud of their engagement in their schools and how they brought Christ to all. Father Quinn represented a person who loved others in respect to his Baptismal vows and his priesthood.
In my examination of Conscience every evening I ask myself how I treated each person that I’ve met: homeless, teachers, garbage men, priests, students, grocery workers, and all needed to be treated as Father Quinn did, with respect and love. I pray to Father Quinn each morning asking him to help our society to have less violence and attend to the needs of others. I especially attend to the needs of Black males. If you are interested in his work, read The Quintessential Priest, written by his postulator, Msgr. Jervis in 2005.