by Msgr. Paul Jervis
Kudos to The Tablet of this past August 1, for the enlightening coverage of African Americans whose causes for canonization are being promoted by the Church. Despite the roadblocks of racism that stood in their paths, they persevered in following the Lord without counting the cost. They are truly an inspiration to us.
The article by Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio on Monsignor Bernard Quinn (known more commonly as Father Quinn) which appeared in The Tablet a week later, on August 8th, reminds us that we are blessed to have him as a Servant of God. His canonization should be pursued earnestly by our diocese because he embodied the love of Jesus for others in his priesthood to such an unparalleled degree that “Black Lives Mattered very much to him” as the bishop had extrapolated so well in his article.
What he wrote about Father Quinn was the truth. Though he was not political or a militant activist, Father Quinn was a priest who immersed himself in ministry to blacks because their spiritual salvation and general well-being mattered very much to him. He took upon himself the racial injustices which they suffered, and engaged civic leaders and the political establishment of the city to do all that they could to advance the rights of “his people” as he had identified himself to them.
Father Quinn was rightly declared to be a “Champion of Negro Rights” on the New York Times obituary page about him. It was none other than the love of Christ which Quinn championed for them. In doing that he expressed his willingness “to shed his blood for the least among them.” That almost came to fulfillment as he confronted the KKK who opposed the residences that he was getting started for black orphaned children, which they burnt to the ground.
Despite threats to his life, Father Quinn was steadfast in his determination to bring his orphanage to fruition. He succeeded with the help of St. Therese of Lisieux and named it after her, as the Little Flower House of Providence in 1930.
After reading about her life when he was a World War I army chaplain in France, St. Therese became an inspiration for his ministry to African Americans, which began 100 years ago in 1920.
On May 17th, 1925, the day of the canonization of St Therese, Fr. Quinn began a weekly novena to her which quickly attracted Catholics from across the diocese because of reports of miracles which people were claiming to have received through her. The white Catholics that went to the church of St. Peter Claver which Father Quinn founded for his black brethren in 1922, found him to be a very prayerful priest who cared deeply about their problems and had a great love for them as well.
The love which poured out of his heart mirrored the love of the Sacred Heart of Jesus for which Father Quinn had a fervent devotion. Despite how he was greatly revered, Father did not allow people to forget who he was “a proud Irishman”, though American by birth. He wanted African Americans to be proud as well of their own racial heritage and culture. Their lives mattered to him, to the extent that he laid down his life for them.
His death on Sunday, April 7, 1940, which that year was Good Shepherd Sunday, was an affirmation of the life in which he lived as a priest who emulated the life-giving sacrifice of The Good Shepherd.
We as a diocese should enthusiastically and energetically promote the cause of the Canonization of Msgr. Bernard Quinn for he behooves us “to hand down to your children this message from a heart that is on fire with love for them”. The love that Jesus came to cast on the earth in Lk 12:49 was evidently set ablaze in Fr. Quinn’s priestly life. God knows how much our world needs this fire now more than ever.
Please seek the intercession of Father Quinn for a cure from a grave illness or for a solution to a hopeless situation, by referring to the prayer that was posted by Bishop DiMarzio in The Tablet issue of August 8th or by calling me at (718) 756-2015 to receive a copy of the prayer by mail.
Msgr. Jervis is pastor of St. Francis of Assisi-St. Blaise Parish and promoter of the cause of canonization of Msgr. Bernard Quinn.