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.
Keep Reading Part 4 > Bill Quinn: Passion for Social Justice