My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,
In recent weeks, we have witnessed the deaths of some of the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. They were followers of the non-violence philosophy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. They were Congressman John Lewis and Rev. Cordy Tindell “CT” Vivian. Today, the slogan Black Lives Matter has become the new mantra for racial equality.
Black Lives mattered very much to Msgr. Bernard Quinn, Servant of God, whose Cause for Canonization began 10 years ago. As he said to the holy people he served: “… I would willingly shed to the last drop my life’s blood for the least among you.”
Last November, during the Ad Limina visit of the New York State Bishops of Region II with the Holy Father, I and my auxiliary bishops had an opportunity to present the completed Diocesan investigation of the life of Msgr. Quinn to the Holy See at the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. The investigation of the life of Msgr. Quinn and the information that has been placed in their hands by the Diocese of Brooklyn is now the duty of this Congregation.
This is a historical case because Msgr. Quinn, who was born in 1888, died on April 7, 1940 and the Holy See will evaluate the information on his life. A few eyewitnesses who knew Msgr. Quinn during their lifetime were interviewed, however, the testimony relied primarily on his written record and also historical records regarding his life.
The Church never makes a saint on the basis of history, but only on the ability of the person to effectuate a miracle from their place in Heaven. And so, the prayer for the Cause for Canonization of Msgr. Bernard J. Quinn is most important.
Msgr. Bernard J. Quinn
A brief history of this great man of the Diocese in Brooklyn and Queens begins during the First World War when he volunteered to be a Catholic chaplain to serve our troops. He was assigned to the front line in France. On Christmas Day in 1918, when he returned from having said three Masses, he came across an English translation of the autobiography of Soeur Theresa he received from the Army Welfare Organization.
As he read the book, he realized that the birthplace of the saint, Alencon, was only about 50 kilometers from his station. He also realized that the anniversary of her birth was on January 2nd, and he asked for leave so he might visit Alencon. Upon his arrival to 42 Rue St. Blaise in 1919, he was greeted by the owner Madame Grant who was delighted to speak of St. Theresa of Lisieux, the Little Flower, to this American priest. He was invited to stay with the family, and the next day, on her birthday, the then Father Quinn said Mass in the room where she was born.
He was the first priest to have done so.
Since that day, Msgr. Quinn became devoted to the Cause for Canonization of St. Therese since she became a saint after his visit to her birthplace. Msgr. Quinn brought that devotion back to the United States, where he requested and was assigned to work with the new migrants from the South and immigrants from the Caribbean. He established the first black parish in the Diocese, then a second to care for Black Catholics, and also to invite others to become members of the Church.
It was the policy in those days to establish “national parishes” for each ethnic group. And so, it was too for Black Catholics, but with greater difficulty, since the other immigrant groups had their own internal organization to be able to raise monies to build their own “national parish.” Msgr. Quinn accomplished this in an interesting way when he started a Novena to St. Therese of Lisieux in the Parish of St. Peter Claver. On a daily basis, the Novena attracted literally thousands of people who attended one of the six or seven Novena services that took place during the day.
This aroused jealousy in some of the pastors of neighboring parishes who saw white parishioners going to St. Peter Claver and thought somehow that their parishes should be the beneficiaries of the collections that were being taken up. The collections that were received enabled Msgr. Quinn to take care of the social needs of his community, especially of the black orphaned children. And so, in 1929, he established the Little Flower orphanage in Wading River in Suffolk County, since at that time, our Diocese encompassed all of Long Island.
Unfortunately, the Ku Klux Klan set fire to the orphanage twice; however, Msgr. Quinn rebuilt it each time it was destroyed. Finally, he did prevail in providing first a summer camp for these children and then a permanent residence. Today, the Little Flower Children and Family Services still exists and calls upon Msgr. Quinn as their founder with the hope that someday he will become a saint because of the holy life he led on this earth.
Black Lives truly mattered to Msgr. Quinn, in a very concrete way, as he clearly understood the evils of racism that he personally confronted in his day, and which, unfortunately, still haunt us today. As we know, racism, as some have called it and I have said, is the Original Sin of America. Somehow, the
superiority of some has been translated into the inferiority of other people of different races, totally disregarding the principle that we all are children of God and equals before God.
Three years ago, after the turbulence following the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, I established the Commission on Racial Justice here in the Diocese of Brooklyn. The Commission was charged with examining if the vestiges of racism still exist here in Brooklyn and Queens because we should learn first from our own home before we look at the societal situation.
As I have reported before, our committee worked diligently under the leadership of Auxiliary Bishop Neil Tiedeman C.P., who has a long history of ministering in the Caribbean and in
our own Diocese, and Father Alonzo Cox, an African-American priest who was born in our Diocese, and currently serves as pastor of St. Martin de Porres parish in Bedford-Stuyvesant and coordinator of our African-American Apostolate.
The Commission reported two important facts following participation in the four listening sessions held in Brooklyn and Queens. First, that “Racism happens when one discriminates in either word or action out of indifference, whether it’s in culture or thought. Each one of us are children of God, made
in His image and likeness. We may have a different cultural background, but we are all united together as children of God who created us.” The Commission went on to say, “The second common thought that came from the listening sessions was the notion that clergy find talking about racism to be un-
comfortable. Many of the participants at the listening sessions expressed that their parish priest doesn’t preach about racism. It’s important to know that racism exists in this day and age, and it should not be ignored.”
How difficult it is to approach societal issues. On the one hand, a priest can be accused of being political. It is sometimes difficult for people to distinguish between social issues that have moral substance, and political issues that sometimes can contain the same moral substance. Therefore, it is a dangerous job for the preacher to address social ills in sermons because the comments can be easily misunderstood by some parishioners, who tend to remember what they like to remember.
It is not an easy task for the priest as a preacher to preach about this important issue. Of course, it is not just by preaching that this issue is addressed. It is by action, however, that we must show our aversion to any type of racism. Hopefully, our parishes are more open than they were almost 100 years
ago when Msgr. Quinn began his ministry. And yet, still, some of our black parishioners do feel unwelcomed in our parishes.
We need to do all that is necessary to ensure that any vestiges of racism are eliminated in our Diocese. For example, today, if someone was to preach about Black Lives Matter, it could be misunderstood since it seems that this has become a political statement despite its certainly moral content. And so, we must be careful in order to reach the hearts of those who hear our sermons to make sure that we teach the message in a way that is understandable and in a way that cannot be misunderstood.
As I mentioned, the Church makes no one a saint unless they can, in essence, prove their sanctity and position in Heaven by interceding for a miracle from God. There are many favors that people have received already through praying for the intercession of Msgr. Quinn. I, myself, am a recipient of
his favor, which I have described in a previous column. And yet, I think that for our Diocese here in Brooklyn and Queens would it not be wonderful if we all put out into the deep and intensified our prayer to Msgr. Quinn, to bring about racial harmony and justice which is so important to our society and our Diocese today? He, I believe, is a powerful intercessor with God, who knows this piece of God’s Kingdom so well. I am sure Msgr. Quinn is interceding for us to make Brooklyn and Queens a better part of the Kingdom of God.
Prayer for the Canonization of the Servant of God, Monsignor Bernard John Quinn
O God, Your devoted priest, Father Bernard John Quinn, loved the people of St. Peter Claver Church,
and those in need, with all his heart, like a father who withheld nothing that was good from his children.
With fatherly care, he embraced the orphaned children of Little Flower House of Providence and was willing to die for them.
I am in need of the loving care which he gave to others and ask the intercession of Your servant as I
humbly present my petition before You, Lord.
(State your intention).
If it is Your will to grant my request, may it aid the cause of his canonization.
I offer this prayer, through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with the Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.
(One Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory be.)
With ecclesiastical approval:
Diocese of Brooklyn, December 14, 2007.
Please report any favors received to
Msgr. Paul Jervis, Postulator
Rev. Alonso Cox, Vice-Postulator
St. Martin de Porres Parish
583 Throop Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11213 USA