My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,
The Church has a long tradition of carefully examining the causes of the saints. In fact, there is an entire department at the Vatican devoted to this important task. Saints are presented to us as models of Christian living, not only to encourage us for greater efforts of sanctity but at the same time becoming our intercessors before the throne of God. After more than ten years of diocesan investigation, last week we concluded the diocesan phase of the study, so that the life of the Reverend Msgr. Bernard John Quinn has been able to be presented to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints at the Holy See.
The Next Step
The ceremony held on Tuesday, June 18, was a beautiful vesper service. The Chapel at the Immaculate Conception Center in Douglaston was filled with priests, deacons, religious and laity from around the Diocese in Brooklyn and Queens.
This solemn act presented the documentation which will be sent to the Holy See in a box, which was sealed with wax and the official seal of the Diocese of Brooklyn. The box will be soon sent to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. This is so the Church Universal may now look at the diocesan case that has been presented for the elevation of Msgr. Bernard J. Quinn from his current status as Servant of God, which is the diocesan designation, to that of Venerable, which must come from the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.
The title Venerable enables the faithful to venerate the person, meaning that relics of the person may be distributed as first and second-class relics; parts of his body, things that belonged to him, things that touched his remains. Msgr. Quinn was born in 1888 and died in 1940 at 52 years of age. We must remember that at its inception, the Diocese of Brooklyn encompassed all of Long Island and was only separated into two dioceses in 1957.
As such, it would be appropriate that the body of Msgr. Quinn be placed in a location where he may be venerated that is available to the faithful of the Diocese. We have begun the process, which legally must have the authorization of any remaining family members of Msgr. Quinn, to transfer the body from a cemetery in Rockville Centre to the Crypt at the Immaculate Center where all of the deceased ordinaries of the Diocese, and some auxiliary bishops of the diocese, are buried.
Normally, this process will take several years, given the matter will need to be presented in civil court and have the proper delegation of the diocese where Msgr. Quinn is currently buried. Hopefully, this process will come to a conclusion before he is declared Venerable.
Another feature of the status of Venerable is that we can, indeed, ask people to pray to Msgr. Quinn for favors that are necessary so that miracles can be attributed to his intercession which would move him to the status of Blessed and then, please God, to sainthood.
The Life of Msgr. Quinn
I must take this time to give full credit and attention to Msgr. Paul Jervis, former pastor of St. Peter Claver Church, and Postulator of this Cause for Canonization, who investigated the historical case of Msgr. Quinn. His book, “Quintessential Priest: The Life of Father Bernard J. Quinn,” was written so that the Cause of Msgr. Quinn could be properly documented. In his homily at the vesper service, Msgr. Jervis spoke eloquently from the heart and from memory regarding all of the significant details of his life.
These details proved that truly Msgr. Quinn was a man of extraordinary holiness, and a man so necessary to be an example in our own day and age. The work of Msgr. Quinn with the Black Catholics of this diocese from the 1920s until his death was difficult. First, he faced pressure from parishes that did not want to accept Black Catholics. Following the norm of the day, Msgr. Quinn established a national parish for black Catholics at St. Peter Claver Church in Brooklyn and then subsequently a parish in Queens. In those days, it was important that each ethnic group had their own particular parish; the Polish, Italian, Irish, German, Lithuanian, and many other ethnic groups. This was the policy of the Church that each group would have its own place to worship. Looking back, in some sense this was segregation; however, in its particular time, it was the solution that the Church used to unite the Church in general.
Persecuted by the Ku Klux Klan
Msgr. Quinn suffered much for his devotion to the Black minority. He was most especially devoted to the children for whom he established an orphanage. At that time, there were many orphans – baptized Catholics and other children – who had no one to take care of them. He established the Little Flower orphanage in Wading River, New York. We must remember that Msgr. Quinn had a deep devotion to St. Thérése of Lisieux, the Little Flower. This orphanage was burned down twice by the Ku Klux Klan. The efforts of Msgr. Quinn never failed and he rebuilt the orphanage each time it was destroyed by fire. His devotion to his people and his faith allowed him to conquer this horrible prejudice.
Msgr. Quinn is a man who can be pointed out today for his sanctity and for his persistent protection afforded to black Catholics and others during the time of his life. He is one of our heroes who ranks with the best of those religious men who motivated the Civil Rights Movement. Msgr. Quinn certainly was well ahead of his time in defending the rights of our black brothers and sisters. Not only was Msgr. Quinn a social activist, but he was truly a holy man, which we see in the writings that have been preserved that show us how he treated people.
My Own History With Msgr. Quinn
I must state my own history with Msgr. Quinn. I always like the fact that he was born in Newark, New Jersey, just like I was, and migrated to Brooklyn with his family. I migrated to Brooklyn much later by the request of the Holy Father; however, Brooklyn and Newark perhaps have some connection with the two of us.
In my own incident which I have documented and which has gone to Rome with the documentation, ten years ago almost to the date I had my quadruple bypass surgery. Two weeks after the surgery I suffered from blood clots in my lungs and heart, a very dangerous situation. By some miraculous feat, I was able to get up after I had collapsed early one Sunday morning and summoned help. With the help of Deacon Stanley Galazin, I was taken back to the hospital where I had my original surgery, which was a distance away. It was very difficult for him to accomplish this as the EMS wanted to take me to the nearest hospital.
As I was lying semiconscious, the presence of Msgr. Quinn came to me. All I could think about was Msgr. Quinn. And I had no real reason to do so. My surgeon said that if I had not gotten back to that hospital within the hour I most probably would have died. This is my personal connection with Msgr. Quinn. His presence, which I truly felt, assured me that there would be a good result from this medical emergency, and why I have been able to serve the Church for these past ten years. And so, in a certain sense, this is a milestone. His Cause for Canonization had begun before this incident, and now we have brought it to completion as I also will complete my service to the people of Brooklyn and Queens in the near future.
Msgr. Bernard John Quinn put out into the deep waters of defending those who had little rights and few people to assist them. He, in his own day and age, worked minor miracles for black Catholics with the building of parishes, an orphanage and services that still exist to this day. Msgr. Quinn is an example of always going beyond what is easy and required to what is extraordinary. As the title of his biography states, he was a Quintessential Priest. Truly, we raise up Msgr. Quinn to the people of our diocese and our Presbyterate as one who can be an example and intercessor for us in times not unsimilar to his own.