No comments yet

Monsignor Bill Quinn, Part 4 – 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.

Comments are closed.