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Brooklyn priest who promoted human rights is candidate for sainthood

A beloved Brooklyn priest who served as a champion for racial equality is being considered for sainthood by the Catholic Church.

The Diocese of Brooklyn recently announced that Msgr. Bernard John Quinn is a candidate for Canonization, and the findings have been officially accepted by Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio, Bishop of Brooklyn.

“The life of Msgr. Bernard Quinn, Servant of God, was lived with extraordinary determination to love all of God’s people,” DiMarzio told this paper.

“Msgr. Quinn was a true leader who daily showed the faithful of the Diocese of Brooklyn how to move away from division and hatred to a life of unity and love.  So many in our diocese and beyond have a strong devotion to Msgr. Quinn and believe this holy man to be a saint.”

The documentation was recently presented to DiMarzio at a private vespers service held at the Immaculate Conception Center in Douglaston. The next step is for the collected information to be sent to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints in support of the cause of sainthood for Quinn.

According to a statement from the Diocese of Brooklyn, from an early age, Quinn became conscious of the great injustices African-Americans suffered and lived his life as a champion for racial equality.

Quinn was ordained to the priesthood in the Diocese of Brooklyn in 1912, and ten years later, with Diocesan support, he established the first church for African American Catholics in Brooklyn. Quinn founded St. Peter Claver Roman Catholic Church in Bedford Stuyvesant.

In 1928, Quinn established the first orphanage for African-American children in Wading River on Long Island. Despite the building being set on fire twice, Quinn rebuilt it a third time; this time fireproofing it, by using concrete and brick. The building, known at the time as the Little Flower Orphanage, remains the operations base for Little Flower Children and Family Services of New York.

“Our investigation took almost 10 years to put together and now we can send the documentation we have on the life of Msgr. Quinn to Rome,” said DiMarzio. “He combated racism and is an inspiration to the priests of this diocese. He is a hero who turned things around and gave his life for his people, died an early death, and was a great man.”

Quinn’s great-niece, Mary Clare Quinn, attended the private vesper service. “They always called him the monsignor but he liked to be called father,” said Quinn. “The family was all very proud of the work he was doing at Little Flower, and we all contributed during the winters and summers, going out there to help. They used to burn crosses at our house in Mineola, even after he was gone, but my family stared fear down.”

Msgr. Paul Jervis, who published a book in 2005 entitled “Quintessential Priest: The Life of Father Bernard J. Quinn,” said, “Msgr. Quinn could not separate his sacramental ministry from the social and political realities that denied to people on account of their race, or immigrant status, the opportunities to enjoy the fullness of life as the Lord willed for all humanity.


Msgr. Paul Jervis, the author of “Quintessential Priest: The Life of Father Bernard J. Quinn,” speaks in support of Msgr. Quinn’s cause for sainthood.

“St. Peter Claver Catholic Church became a meeting ground where white Catholics encountered blacks and discovered that they all had common humanity with the same human problems, and were all in need of the intercession of St. Therese and the pastoral intercession of Msgr. Quinn,” concluded Monsignor Jervis.

Quinn died on April 7, 1940 at the age of 52. He was buried at St. Peter Claver Church, where 8,000 people attended his funeral.

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