On October 3-4, 2015, St. Eulalia celebrated the 100th anniversary of the birth of Monsignor William Quinn, pastor from 1967 to 1986. Many parishioners today never knew “Father Bill,” as he preferred to be called. We only know him through his legacy in our parish community, a community he shaped by his leadership and personal example.
His story is both inspiring and challenging. Inspiring – because he was in many ways an ordinary man, who did extraordinary things. Challenging – because the issues and injustices that he cared passionately about may have changed, but they have not disappeared. Learning about his life and his love of St. Eulalia can urge us forward on the path he set out for us.
A research team has been listening to stories and gathering memorabilia. We will be sharing those memories in The Good Word over the next few weeks. Most of the biographical sketch is the collected memories of those who knew him as pastor and friend. There is a rare self-description, though, of his work as a priest in the 25 years before he came to St. Eulalia as pastor. This succinct reflection was written on the occasion of his 50th jubilee as a priest.
As Fr. Quinn picks up the story in the late 1950’s, he had already served as: Assistant pastor at St. Gall’s Church, Chaplain to the Catholic Action Federation (including the Christian Family Movement, Young Christian Workers, and Young Christian Students), Chicago delegate to the World Congress on the Lay Apostolate in Rome, and Instructor in the Social Action Institute, Catholic University, Washington, D.C. The account begins as he is named Co-Director of the Latin American Bureau of the U.S. Conference of Bishops and coordinator of the Papal Volunteers for Latin America. We begin with Bill Quinn’s own words.
As the 1950’s began to wane, IO was assigned added work, to be co-director of the Latin American Bureau of the National Conference of Bishops. The first job was to get acquainted with the territory which was the church of Central and South America (sounds like a job with a travel bureau). I began a trip which included all Latin American countries except Bolivia and Paraguay. It was both interesting and wearing. I met hundreds of people and laid the groundwork for lots of meetings with American Bishops and others.
Shortly thereafter, Pope John XXIII called a universal or world-wide council to be made up of all the bishops in the world, to treat the numerous problems facing God’s people in a most upsetting age.
The Council would take place in Rome, the first since the 1870’s and the second since the 16th century. A big event—in St. Peter’s basilica. There were some 2500 bishops from all over the world, even from communist dominated countries. Among the Asians were people from Japan, Korea, Indo-China, and the Philippines. There were some fifty blacks, both from Africa and from some countries like our own. Three hundred bishops came from South America. Representatives of all God’s family.
There were four sessions, one each in 1962, ’63, 64’ and ’65. I was invited to the middle two and worked only on the periphery of the council, attempting to strike up relationships for our church.
Part of the problem I was working on was the coldness which existed between the U.S. and Latin America, not just the State Department, but the church as well. Most all of our bishops had done some studying in Europe and had lots of contacts, both in Rome and other European seats of learning and power. They had no such contacts in Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro, Santiago, and Lima. Therefore there was no interaction. I believe that only a very small percentage of the American bishops knew Dom Helder Camara of northeast Brazil who was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Rome at the time of the Council was an ideal place to pursue my aims. All the bishops were there. The contacts went on for months. How much was accomplished? It’s hard to tell. Certainly the State Department isn’t doing any better. The church maybe, because it seems to be growing closer to the poor. I hope I helped a bit.
Personally, I think I received much from my Latin contacts. Many priests I dealt with were really dedicated to the poor and themselves lived lives of need. A few of these priests were killed, others imprisoned. In some areas you were suspected of communism of you did anything for the poor.
And then to St. Eulalia… What a blessed day, November 3, 1967. Many of you know the story. No need for details. I was glad I came; happy I stayed as pastor for 18 years and glad I’m here as a retired pastor. What more could I ask of the Lord—only to continue to bless you.
Up Close and Personal
He would be hard to miss. Well over six feet tall and a bit husky, with bushy hair and thick glasses, he stood out. And then there was the smile – ever present, and seemingly focused just on you, even in the midst of a crowd. A smile that was often said to light up the room. The smile that made it seem like he never had a bad day, even though everyone knew better.
Though an imposing man physically, he was totally lacking in pretense; other-centered, not self-centered. The monsignor title always felt uncomfortable to him; he called himself—and preferred to be called—simply Father Bill. The monsignor robes remained unworn in his closet. They just did not fit who he was.
Those who knew him well could sense the contradiction in his personality. A somewhat shy introvert by nature, he was nevertheless a consummate people person. He just loved to be with people–as friend, as counselor, as companion. He loved good conversation. Bill Quinn could talk on a variety of subjects, because he seemed to be interested in everything, from the White Sox (he was a big fan) to literature to art to theology to public affairs. But even more than being a great talker, he was a great listener – more interested in hearing what his conversational companion had to say and how they were doing than in making a telling point.
It seems he was always present. The rectory waiting room was often full of visitors. When it wasn’t, he was inviting someone to “go out for coffee” and talk about an issue or topic of concern. He never missed a wake – though at the beginning he felt he wasn’t practiced in saying the right thing. Evenings were often spent visiting parishioners at home, where he was a frequent lunch or dinner guest. And he seemed to always know about a party where he was welcome – and would show up. He clearly liked to have fun, and was fun to be with.
Bill Quinn cared about people, not things. He took no salary as pastor. His old car was always breaking down; when it finally gave out, another replaced it, almost by magic. His clothes were thrown together, often salvaged from the second hand store. A classic story in the parish is the time his friends—worried that his threadbare coat would not protect him from the Chicago cold—bought him a new winter coat. He was appreciative, but within a week was back to wearing the old one. When asked, he finally admitted that a homeless man had come to the rectory door without a coat, and Bill had given him the new one. Possessions were simply not a value in his personal life
It was people that mattered. He was a man who formed deep and lasting personal relationships. He knew people in the spotlight of history: like Bobby Kennedy and Eugene McCarthy and Cesar Chavez (who lived at the parish when he came to Chicago to demonstrate), or Ivan Illitch and Andrew Greeley (who considered him a mentor). He influenced young priests like Robert Barron (now auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles) and his assistant pastors John Boyle and Joe Kinane, who went on to become pastors themselves. But he also had deep friendships with parishioners (who often invited him for dinner) or the parish staff (he and the parish custodian Joe Rauzi were like brothers). He had a way of drawing people to do the right thing: to join a parish retreat, to serve in parish ministry, to run a food pantry or second-hand clothing center. He built community one person at a time by encouraging people to become their best selves.
One of his pre-eminent skills was connecting people with each other. That task was the essence of his work with the Latin American bishops—building connections with the rest of the church. It was also how he served his friends, by linking them to just the right person who could help share and shape their lives. He connected St. Eulalia with other churches in the area, creating a local ecumenical movement. And he connected the parish with public organizations that were dealing with community problems such as housing discrimination. His leadership style was to inspire others to take responsibility, take action, and then give them credit for success of the enterprise.
He could take a strong stand when he discerned an important principle at stake. But he also listened to, and genuinely respected, people who disagreed with him. He spoke out against the Vietnam War from the pulpit. When a parishioner wrote him a letter disagreeing with his position, he published the letter in the Sunday bulletin. He loved disagreement that was out loud, but respectful of the other. He saw earnest, serious conversation as the incubator of genuine community.
He could recognize and sympathize with hardship, because he knew it himself. In spite of his people skills, he knew loneliness—and wrote about the loneliness of the priest. Frequently by himself on his travels in South America, he began drinking; it became a problem he dealt with by joining Alcoholics Anonymous. As pastor, he welcomed numerous AA groups in the parish to help others with the same problem. His cancer surgery left him with the permanent inconvenience of a tube that had to be cared for daily. But hardship never took away his smile, and only served to make him a better friend, a better counselor, a better priest.
Thirty years after he retired as pastor, and over ten years since his death, he is still remembered with reverence and affection by those who had the chance to know him up close and personal.
When Bill Quinn became pastor of St. Eulalia in 1967, change was everywhere. From a perch almost 50 years later, it is hard to remember—or for those who did not experience it, to imagine—how much of the familiar world seemed suddenly upside down. From the global level–where the Vietnam War divided our country and the world, to the neighborhoods of Maywood–experiencing sudden racial change, to the church–where the fresh air of Vatican II was just beginning to penetrate musty thinking and practice, everything seemed up for grabs.
At the parish level, St. Eulalia had been on a boom period. The new church, built for a parish of 3,000, was completed in 1964. The school had 1200 students, with three classes for some grades. Plans were drawn up for more building. A baptistry was to be added to the church. Money was already collected for a new rectory. But before the building could begin, the pastor, Monsignor Musick, suddenly died. The appointment of Quinn as the new pastor thrust him into guiding St. Eulalia through a period of deep and dramatic change.
At the center of the change was parish worship. Quinn was not a trained liturgist. But from seminary through his experience at Vatican II, he was part of the movement that saw Eucharistic liturgy not as the privilege of the priest, but the “work” of the people. The change from Latin to English gave the once passive community an opening to participate. Quinn was at the forefront of implementing the new opportunities: lay people (including women) read the Scripture and distributed the Eucharist; girls could become altar servers; the greeting of peace meant hugs, not just limp handshakes; children too young for Communion got their special blessing. Music was not a performance by the choir, but the voice of the whole people.
The new understanding of the role of the laity resonated in parish organization. Quinn quickly incorporated the role of deacons both in the liturgy and in the pastoral work of the parish. The deaconate training program for the archdiocese was housed at St Eulalia. Quinn energized the parish pastoral council (initiated by his predecessor Monsignor Musick) as advisory group for the pastor, even including high school students as members. He encouraged lay people to become responsible for ECHO (Eulalia Community Helping Others) – a parish outreach to the poor providing assistance with food and clothing.
From his experience in national and international church leadership, Quinn had developed skills in assessing social trends. He quickly grasped the significance of the demographic shift in Maywood and Broadview–from a population largely white and Catholic to predominantly black and Protestant. He sensed that the new church building was probably too big for the future community, and ended the planning for a new baptistry.
Quinn did not hesitate to make tough decisions, but his leadership style was pastoral. He led by delegating—hiring staff or inviting volunteers, then letting them be responsible. He exercised authority by giving it away. The focus was not on what he wanted but the parish as a whole doing its mission.
The kindness and generosity that would literally “give you the coat off his back” characterized his role as pastor as well. In their personal stories, parishioners remember his compassion in distressful situations. He assisted at the marriage of a parishioner in a Protestant church, because that was what the circumstances called for. He compassionately offered to hold church funerals in problematic situations. One story is illustrative: When a military veteran in another parish passed away, his wife planned to bury him in an already purchased plot in a veterans’ cemetery. When the pastor refused a church funeral unless the husband was buried in a Catholic cemetery, the wife was distraught, because she could not afford a new cemetery plot. Quinn held the funeral at St. Eulalia. He knew how to make God’s mercy real and palpable.
Parents remember Quinn’s way with children. He was a frequent visitor to the school, where he seemed to know everyone’s name. He was comfortable with kids, and they were comfortable with him–in the school or on the playground or in church. Quinn was able to make children feel included in the life of the parish. Parents recall Quinn’s gentle touch as children made their first confession; a potentially anxious moment instead brought a glow of calm peace. For the vigil of All Saints Day– Halloween, he had a special Mass for kids in their costumes; they received a gift of candy, but had to give some back at the offertory. One 3-year old walked up to the sanctuary during Mass and deposited a sucker on the altar specially for Fr. Quinn. In the weekly Sunday Mass, he gave even the smallest children special acknowledgement by inviting them for a special blessing after Communion. Part of the Quinn legacy that has become St. Eulalia tradition is little children running up the aisle after Communion to receive their special blessing from the celebrant and deacon. His impact on children endured; students who had received their first Communion from Fr. Quinn made the trip back from college to be present at his funeral.
Compassion, understanding, a sense of humor, a priest on a mission to build a parish community united in love – these are some of the prominent memories of Bill Quinn as pastor.
Passion for Social Justice
When Bill Quinn became pastor at St. Eulalia in November 1967, there was no question about the central issue he would confront. The civil rights movement for social justice was on the nation’s front burner. Its heat was being felt in Maywood’s neighborhoods and housing market. Long a majority (90%) middle class white community of tidy bungalows, Maywood was seeing rapid racial change. There were rumors of block-busting by realtors. Fires were threatened at homes of new black residents —and at least one garage burned.
There was little doubt about the new pastor’s passion for social justice. He had already marched with Martin Luther King at Selma and Chicago and Washington. He marched with migrant workers in California, and Cesar Chavez was a personal friend who stayed at the parish when he was in Chicago to demonstrate. So it was no surprise when Quinn took a strong stand against housing discrimination and welcomed blacks into Maywood and into the parish.
He met opposition. There were rumors of threats to burn down the church, and one real attempt. There is a story of one parishioner telling Quinn he had a gun with two bullets, one for the black that moves in next door, and the other for the realtor who sold him the house. Quinn had to declare that attitude unwelcome at St. Eulalia. That parishioner left. Over time, others also opted out of the changing parish and left Maywood. As white Catholics moved out of Maywood, black non-Catholics moved in. Within a few years, parish membership shrank from 3,000 to 1,000.
For the parishioners who remained, harmony was sometimes a hard sell even within worship. One black Eucharistic minister had a communicant turn away and refuse the host from her. Nevertheless, the message Quinn preached was constant and consistent: “All are welcome.” His overwhelming focus was on becoming “one community.” Quinn insisted that parish organizations reflect the diversity of the congregation. He pushed for people to work as one, without cliques or divisions.
Quinn’s pastoral strategy was the one he knew well from his years in Catholic Action – bringing people together in smaller groups. In the Christ Renews His Parish program—men and women were invited on separate weekends for an overnight parish retreat in the school building. In prayer and listening to each other and earnest conversation, friendships formed and suspicions disappeared. That dynamic was reinforced through Scripture study groups, where sharing based on faith generated mutual respect and understanding. The process worked. A unified congregation that could have taken ten years to achieve was largely accomplished in half that time. Sunday morning at 10 o’clock may have been the most segregated hour in America elsewhere; that was not true at St. Eulalia.
Quinn’s passion for building one community was complemented by his passion for serving the poor and needy. That took organized form in ECHO—Eulalia Community Helping Others. This outreach effort, staffed by parish volunteers, offered assistance with an emergency food pantry, access to furniture (especially baby cribs for new mothers), a used clothing co-op, help with job placement, and referral to social service agencies. In one year, 1979, ECHO volunteers contributed 5,774 hours of volunteer service.
The tradition of a racially and ethnically diverse congregation united in worship and in fellowship is the cornerstone of Quinn’s legacy for St. Eulalia. Strongly rooted under his pastoral leadership, that tradition has not only persisted, it remains a fundamental characteristic of the parish. Quinn’s dream was that the worshiping community be a model for social relationships beyond the church doors. As St. Eulalia celebrates his 100th birthday, perhaps his best present is that his dream has not died, but has been tested and grown stronger through the years.
Many parishioners have remarked that the founding and successful growth of the Quinn Community Center is a remarkably fitting tribute and embodiment of his legacy to the parish. It carries the mission of the church – to be one community united in respect and love – into the streets of Maywood and Broadview. Quinn would have normally been embarrassed to have anything named for him. Although we can’t ask him, the Quinn Community Center is likely the one exception. As the Center draws support from the parish and beyond, his spirit is certainly present: reaching a helping hand, offering compassion and hope, inviting and encouraging personal and community growth. Quinn in his life brought people together so they could be better people. That is a legacy to celebrate, and a dream to build on.