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  • Writer's pictureProfiles in Catholicism

Quintessential Priest: the Life of Father Bernard J. Quinn

by Paul W. Jervis

The author of this book is also the postulator for the cause of the subject of the book, Monsignor Bernard J. Quinn. A postulator is a priest who represents and speaks on behalf of the person who is presented for canonization. The book is the biography of Bernie Quinn who began his life in 1888 and died of stomach cancer in 1940. He was a remarkable man who had a great love for God and the people he cared for in his parish and in the orphanage of Wading River. The dedication of the book is a quote from Therese of Lisieux who said: This is dedicated to “the ordinary priests whose ministry is sometimes difficult”. The book is a detailed account of the life of Father Quinn and is replete with pictures that show his delight at being a priest. It shows specifically how ordinary he was and yet devoted to the work of assisting black men and women to become successful while growing in their love for Christ and His Church. Father Quinn’s ‘accomplishments in founding St. Peter Claver Parish and the orphanage at Wading River were done at a painful sacrificial cost to himself. He was ridiculed and persecuted because he loved blacks and suffered painfully for their children, whose orphanage home was twice destroyed by rabid packs of racists”. ‘Quinn was truly revolutionary in daring to love blacks and committing himself to their well being without reservation which the Church and society were not willing or prepared to do”.

Fr. Quinn was commissioned a First Lieutenant and assigned to France as an army Chaplin of the 333rd Machine Gun Infantry Regiment in the Burgundy region. As he settled in, he found an autobiography of St. Therese of Lisieux. As he read the book, he felt a certain intimacy developed in him for her, which he shared with others. He visited the Little Flower home in Alencon where hospitals of the wounded American soldiers were located. He was assigned to the post for 6 months. He had the opportunity to overnight and be the guest of Mrs. Grant, who delighted him with conversations about the Little Flower. He subsequently wrote a Novena on behalf of the Little Flower that people could use. Throughout his life, he was devoted to St. Therese and had a great devotion to her.

One of the most famous lines attributed to Father Quinn were addressed to his beloved parishioners at St. Peter Claver Church on June 1, 1922: “I love you, I am proud of everyone of you and I would willingly shed to the last drop my life’s blood for the least among you”.”…his declaration of love for his people was not vacuous or fraudulent, but that, indeed, he had spoken the truth so totally that he was willing to shed the last drop of his life’s blood for them”. In 1928, now Msgr. Quinn, was assigned to the Church of St. Peter Claver. He established the first Roman Catholic Orphanage for Negro Children, the home for homeless colored children at Wading River, Long Island. He educated the children spiritually, physically, emotionally and cognitively with the help of holy women and men.(nuns and brothers)

Msgr. Quinn created a home of prayer for black Catholics. He made sure that the parishioners attended it regularly. He also wanted them to be well informed and educated about their faith. He did catechesis before and after Mass. He talked to them about the sacraments during Mass. “Set ablaze by his devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus for his service to his Black brethren, Quinn desired that they too be set on fire by this devotion for their love of God and neighbor, in fidelity to keeping His commandments and the teachings of the Church”. His attention to the orphanage was equally as intense. He constantly and consistently reached out to assist them in whatever way he could and at the same time was considered a very holy man by all. Our Pope Francis would be proud of him!

Father Jervis, now Monsignor also, is a very generous soul as he sifted through all the information he found in the rectory of St. Peter Claver and talked to many parishioners and fellow priests. He compiled a book that is thoughtfully and carefully written so that the reader will understand this holy man. The pictures help us to understand both the joys and sorrows of living a life in union with Christ. Father Jervis was born in Guyana, South America and immigrated to the United States where he became a citizen and entered the seminary in Huntington. He is a holy black man presenting to our Pope the information for a white holy priest. The time, detail and talent he put into this book is heartwarming. The person reviewing the book is his great-niece.


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