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.
Parishioners, officials, and guests gathered at the Quinn Community Center on October 3rd to celebrate the legacy of Monsignor William J.Quinn, for whom the center is named. Members of the St. Eulalia Roman Catholic Church who knew Monsignor Quinn during his time as pastor there, shared their memories of the tremendous acts of service that made him one of the great social leaders in the area.
Monsignor Quinn was raised on the West Side of Chicago, attended Resurrection School in Chicago before entering Quigley Preparatory Seminary. He was ordained in 1941 and then became assistant pastor at St. Gall Parish in Chicago.
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.