Christmas 2011 came to Bedford-Stuyvesant with a blast of joy as the congregation gathered on the mild, sunny, Sunday morning to celebrate the 90th birthday of the founding of St. Peter Claver parish.
It was a standing-room only crowd of parishioners from the three church sites that make up the current parish of St. Martin de Porres. They were joined by a sizable number of visitors. The sanctuary was carpeted with the customary Christmas poinsettias which matched the maroon, draped banners hanging alongside the pillars in the aisle of the church. There was a rousing singing of carols by the congregation and choir, interspersed with selections from Handel’s Messiah by a soloist.
A memory that shone brightly on that Christmas morning was Msgr. Bernard J. Quinn, the founding pastor of St. Peter Claver Church. Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio, the main celebrant, acknowledged in his homily that Msgr. Quinn made it possible for black Catholics to have a church where they could be culturally and spiritually at home, like the various ethnic European groups who were having parishes established for their people by the Brooklyn Diocese at the turn of the 20th century.
Msgr. Paul Jervis, pastor of St. Martin de Porres parish, in his remarks at the end of the Mass, said that black Catholics, like all blacks at that time, suffered insurmountable racism, but had Father Quinn in their corner, championing their rights in society and the church. He was a shepherd who sacrificed his life for his sheep for which “he was willing to shed the last drop of his life’s blood,” said Msgr. Jervis.
Bishop DiMarzio passionately appealed to the congregation to call upon the intercession of Msgr. Quinn in their prayers to God for whatever their needs are, so that his cause for canonization can advance rapidly. Concelebrating at the Mass was Father Caleb Buchanan, associate pastor
On Christmas Day 1921, St. Peter Claver parish came into being when Bishop Charles McDonnell, Brooklyn’s second bishop, in his chapel on Clermont Ave. in Fort Greene, gave Father Bernard J. Quinn a charter for the establishment of the parish in the presence of a small number of black Catholics who had accompanied him for that historic event. Within a few months, a former Protestant church building that had been converted into a storage facility, was bought and rebuilt into St. Peter Claver Church. It was dedicated to the 17th century champion of African slaves in Cartagena, Colombia
Father Quinn led an exemplary priestly life in the model of St. Peter Claver, but his love overflowed to everyone. He attracted tens of thousands of white devotees of St. Theresa of Lisieux to a novena to her that became a very popular devotion in the Diocese of Brooklyn.
Father Quinn also established St. Benedict the Moor Church for blacks in Jamaica, Queens, and the Little Flower Children Services in Wading River, L.I., where he faced the hostility of the Ku Klux Klan who were opposed to that project. The Klan twice burnt down the facility, but the fire which endured was in Father Quinn’s heart from which he told his people in St. Peter Claver Church, “I am on fire with love for you.”
Msgr. Jervis challenged the congregation to promote Father Quinn’s cause for canonization by bringing others to Christ.
For information on Father Quinn’s cause for canonization, which is currently before the Vatican, please contact 718 574-5772 or www.fatherquinn.org.