I am Tom Fuechtmann, a member of St. Eulalia parish for over 17 years. I do not live within the typical parish boundaries of Broadview-Maywood, but I was attracted to the parish because of the strong sense of welcoming community that has always been its hallmark. In the liturgy at St. Eulalia, divisions of race, ethnicity, gender faded away, modeling the kind of united, sharing community that Jesus calls us to be. It has often been said that 10:00 o’clock on Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in America – except at St. Eulalia. That is why it became my spiritual home. For about 7 years, I was privileged to work with Gabriel Lara and some remarkable people in growing the Quinn Center out of the empty classrooms of a shutdown school building.
This week, as we celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Quinn Center, I would like to reflect briefly on two of its foundational elements: its name, honoring Msgr. William Quinn, and its logo, the loaves and fishes
The Quinn Center was conceived and nourished in the experience of St. Eulalia. I feel that very strongly, since I was there at the Quinn Center’s origin.
Ten years ago in 2010, the school building was largely empty and unused except for occasional parish functions and the once a week soup kitchen and food pantry. The pastor, Father Carmelo, took the courageous step of re-thinking the building’s function as a community center for an outreach toward the social needs of the neighboring community. He hired Gabriel Lara, at first on a very part-time basis, to make something happen. And that is quite simply how the Quinn Center started. There was no strategic plan, no over-arching vision; just the mandate to “do something.” And that’s where I got involved.
Gabriel was looking for a connecting link to the parish. I was chairing the parish council’s Human Concerns Committee. Gabriel welcomed the invitation to join our committee for someone to talk with about creating and shaping this new parish enterprise. Over the next 7 years I partnered with Gabriel by creating successive committees to build an organizational structure for the Quinn Center to support its sustainability.
The Quinn Center may have started without a plan, but it did already have a name. And that name contributed significantly toward shaping the vision and the goals for the new center. Naming the center after Fr. Bill Quinn, the almost legendary pastor from 1967 to 1984, gave the center a legacy from the past and a mission for the future.
In 2010, many parishioners still remembered Bill Quinn. He came to St. Eulalia after years of working at the upper echelons of the Catholic Church organization. For 11 years, he served as the American bishops contact person with the bishops of Latin America. He attended 2 sessions of Vatican II, and provided a critically important link between the bishops of North and South America, in a period when there was little connection. And then in 1967 he was posted to St. Eulalia as pastor. It was a very different world—ground level, so to speak--to which Quinn brought his wide experience of working on larger issues affecting the national and global church.
Quinn came to the parish at a critical point. Maywood was experiencing dramatic demographic change, as White residents moved out and Black residents moved in. Quinn strongly supported housing integration as a principle of justice. One anecdote is illustrative: a parishioner told the pastor that he had a gun with 2 bullets—one for the Black that would move in next door, and one for the real estate agent that sold him the property. Quinn made it clear that such an attitude no place within St. Eulalia. Quinn’s firm position on integration within the parish was echoed by his participation at the national level. He marched several times with Martin Luther King, and was a close friend and advisor to Cesar Chavez, who stayed at the parish when he visited Chicago.
Quinn could be firm, but he was also open. His strategy for effecting change was not to build walls, but to generate dialogue. He was a consummate people person who talked to everyone. Parish staff remember that there was always someone waiting to talk with him at the parish office. And if no one was there, he would call someone to go have coffee or lunch. His strategy for healing division was to get people talking– with him, and across the parish. It took time, but the result was a unified parish community.
Quinn wanted the parish to be generous in helping with people’s needs. He formed the program ECHO – Eulalia Community Helping Others, providing a food pantry, secondhand clothing exchange, cribs for expectant mothers, job search support. He wanted Eulalia to be a caring community. He himself was a model of selfless generosity. An oft-told story provides an example. He never spent money on himself, getting his clothes second-hand. One winter, his coat was so frayed that a parishioner bought him a new one. A week later he was back to wearing the old one. When asked about it, he admitted he had given the new one to a homeless man who came to the door and needed a coat.
Many people who knew Bill Quinn personally have said that the Quinn Center is the only thing he would be happy to have his name on. As a start-up strategy, the name provided direction. Ten years later, the operational model of the Center has become much more articulated. His name and his active presence remain no less an inspiration.
The logo the Center has adopted and now formalized in a graphic design is in the spirit of Quinn as well. In the early years, the Center had no funding independent from the parish budget. But people working in the Center gradually came to recognize a pattern: even when there was no money, program goals somehow were accomplished with unexpected resources. We began to understand it as a “loaves and fishes” phenomenon, after the Gospel story in Luke & Mathew. When Jesus, after teaching a large crowd on a hillside, told the disciples to give the people something to eat, all they could come up with was 5 loaves of bread and two fish, in the hands of a young boy. Jesus blessed the food, and had the disciples distribute it. Thousands were fed, and much was left over.
Many stories over the last ten years fit this pattern from the Gospel. A favorite story of mine: One Tuesday, an outside group that had volunteered to provide food for the Soup Kitchen called late in the afternoon to say they would be unable to fulfill their commitment. While staff were worriedly trying to come up with an alternative, the phone rang. It was the director of catering at Buona Beef saying they had just had a catering order cancelled, and asking if the Center could use the food. A “coincidence”? Hardly. I have to believe that so much of the success of the Quinn Center is doing what the Lord asks, and having faith in Him to multiply our few loaves and fishes. I would say that the Center’s current distribution of over 400 food baskets every Tuesday demonstrates the power of faith pictured in that logo.
Remember -- The name is the mission. The logo is the strategy. And the miracle we have all been part of is the Quinn Center 10 years later.
Congratulations and a big Thank You to Gabriel Lara and Kristen Mighty and everyone whose hands and heart have made the Quinn Center what it is today.