Tuesday, September 6, 2016


I recently came across a new possible saint of the USA and one from an area dear to my own heart.  When I was studying for my PhD, I ventured into Brooklyn every Sunday eve to study with a woman who at the time was a renowned authority on children with autism. Her school was in the heart of Bed- Sty and a very dangerous place to travel into. One did not walk alone, and at times I had to take children on a public bus in and and out of the area. Near the school were vacant lots and burnt out buildings. Strangely, I never felt unsafe. (I read the area is now vastly improved with restoration projects.)  

SERVANT of GOD FATHER BERNARD QUINN, the former pastor of St. Peter Claver parish in Bedford-Stuyvesant and founder of Little Flower Children’s Services in Brooklyn and Wading River, died in 1940 after a lifetime of ministry to the African-American community in the Diocese of Brooklyn.
St Peter Claver

Father Bernard, who was born in New Jersey on January 15, 1888, died at the age of 52, founding his congregation in 1922 after he was granted permission by his bishop to establish a Church for black Catholics in Brooklyn.

As a young priest, Father Bernard was drawn to serve black Catholics. When he approached Bishop Charles McDonnell about starting a parish for blacks in Bedford-Stuyvesant, he was told that recruiting chaplains to serve US soldiers in World War I was a priority for the diocese.

He volunteered and served in France, where he nurtured a devotion to St Thérèse of Lisieux. He visited the house where she was raised and became the first priest to celebrate Mass there at a time when it was a little-known shrine.

Father Bernard returned from the war in ill health after being gassed with poison. He suffered poor health for the rest of his life.

Upon his arrival back in the diocese, he received permission from Bishop McDonnell to start a new parish for black people in Brooklyn. He worked with the “Colored Catholic Club” and established the parish of St. Peter Claver in what had been a Protestant church that later was turned into a warehouse depot.

He later began a novena in honor of the Little Flower at St Peter Claver. It brought together hundreds of white and black Catholics, in what was said to be "the only place in the United States where whites joined their black brethren week after week in prayer, even though it was a time when blacks and whites were separate."

At that time, blacks were not welcomed in Catholic churches in Brooklyn and had to journey to a Catholic church set aside for blacks in Manhattan. Father Quinn, the son of Irish immigrants, devoted much of his life to the betterment of blacks not only at St Peter Claver.

He built a community center a block from the church. One of his major achievements was an orphanage called the Little Flower House of Providence, Long Island. The Klu Klux Klan burnt the building down twice but each time Msgr Quinn ensured it was rebuilt.  The Klan threatened Father Bernard with death but he defied them. He later established in the diocese a second parish for blacks, St Benedict the Moor in Jamaica.
A clipping fromThe New York Times described the scene of the funeral held at St Peter for Msgr. Quinn in 1940 - 8,000 people lined the streets around the church.

In a pastoral letter written by Father Bernard to the people of St Peter Claver, he said, "I love you, I am proud of every one of you, and I would willingly shed to the last drop my life's blood for the least among you."

In later years, Msgr. Quinn referred to himself as "an adopted son of the Negro race."  The cause for sainthood for Father Bernard was introduced at the Vatican in 2010. 

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