From Your Pastors
St Philip Neri, the founder of the Oratory, loved to share stories of the lives of the Saints. For Philip the heroic characters of those stories provided not only inspiration but a way to travel to the exotic places and times. In the parishes of St Boniface and Assumption, we do not have to travel far to encounter a saint. Just two miles away, in Bedford-Stuyvesant, lived and worked and most likely the first official saint of Brooklyn, Father Bernard Quinn.
Bernard Quinn was born in Newark on January 15, 1888, on the same day that Pope Leo XIII canonized Peter Claver, the Spanish Jesuit who devoted his life heroically to the care of African slaves in South America. After serving as an Army chaplain in World War I, Fr. Quinn was granted permission to begin the first parish devoted to Black
Catholics in Brooklyn. In 1922, he bought what was formerly a Protestant church; the building was blessed and dedicated to St. Peter Claver on February 26, 1922. Fr Quinn was known for his openhearted kindness, patience, and compassion, especially for the downtrodden. In a move dear to St Philip Neri’s heart, Quinn established a vibrant children’s choir for Sunday Masses. Two associated with that music program you might recognize: Lena Horne and Pearl Bailey.
Fr. Quinn would later go on to found Little Flower Children Services, which cared for the increasing number of Black children orphaned as a result of the Great Depression. Little Flower Children Services, which continues to this day working with children with disabilities, was first situated in Wading River, Long Island. Fr. Quinn and his collaborators twice rebuilt the orphanage after it was burnt down twice by a mob reportedly lead by a local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan. He faced considerable opposition even among fellow churchmen. Quinn famously said in response: "No church can exclude anyone and still keep its Christian ideals."
After a lifetime of fighting for racial equality, he died in 1940 at the age of 52. His legacy continues in the vibrant parish of St Martin de Pores which incorporates three churches including St Peter Claver in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. His cause for canonization is currently under way.
With this Friday being Juneteenth, it seems appropriate to reflect on the life of Father Bernard Quinn and his conviction that to be a Christian means to exclude no one and to work for social justice for all.
Juneteenth has a long history in the African American community. In the face of the painful and brutal history of slavery and segregation it offers a light of hope on the fight for freedom and justice. As noted by the National Museum of African American History & Culture, Juneteenth is a time to celebrate, to gather as a family, to reflect on the past and look to the future. It is a holiday that commemorates the June 19, 1865, announcement of the abolition of slavery in Texas, and more generally the emancipation of African American slaves throughout the Confederate South.
Emancipation did not finally come until General Gordon Granger rode into Galveston, Texas and issued General Order No. 3, on June 19, almost two and a half years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. Celebrated on June 19, the word is a portmanteau of “June” and “nineteenth.” We encourage all to spend time reflecting on the meaning of the day and to pray for real change.
In his first pastoral letter to his parishioners, soon after the inauguration of the parish of St Peter Claver, Fr Quinn pledged: “to willingly shed to the last drop my life’s blood for the least among you.”
Jesus you revealed God through your willingness to shed your blood for us,
and we encounter you still today in the faces of every one of our sisters and brothers.
Guide us, through the love you revealed, to establish the justice you proclaimed,
that all peoples might dwell in harmony and peace, united by that one love that binds us
to each other, and to you. Amen
Fr. Mark Lane, c.o. and Fr. Michael Callaghan, c.o.