In Memoriam: Paulist Fr. Robert Quinn (1926-2016)

October 31, 2015

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Father John Quinn, CSP

This sermon was given in honor of Father Robert Quinn, C.S.P. by Father Michael McGarry, C.S.P., former President of the Paulist Fathers, during Father Quinn’s funeral Mass, on November 7, 2015 at St. Mary’s Church in Winchester, Massachusetts. He was interred at Holy Cross Cemetery in Malden, Massachusetts.

A Catholic theologian once summed up the core of our Christian life as follows: gather the people, tell the story, break the bread. So we are gathered, and I begin with Fr. Bob Quinn’s story…

A proud graduate of Boston College High School, Fr. Bob early on discerned a priestly vocation and, like his brother Joe, attended the Paulist Fathers’ seminary in Washington, D.C. Ordained for the Paulists in 1953, Fr. Bob had a short stint at the Paulist parish in Layton, Utah. Always the Bostonian, he was fortunate to spend almost all his priesthood serving in the Archdiocese of Boston.

For many years, Fr. Bob served at the Catholic Information Center (now “the Paulist Center”) in downtown Boston. There he instructed inquirers into the Catholic Church and,with his fellow Paulists, offered a beacon of educational, pastoral, and liturgical ministry.

Within Boston, Fr. Bob is probably best remembered as the one who brought the practical and theological fruits of the Second Vatican Council to this Archdiocese. Fr. Bob inaugurated and oversaw a lecture series entitled the “Christian Culture Series.” He recruited the great minds of Europe and North America to come to Boston to help instruct the faithful and clergy about the theological and pastoral reforms of the Second Vatican Council.The 1960s and early 1970s was a time when a number of European and American theologians assumed an almost celebrity star-status. Because of the Information Center’s 300-person capacity, Fr. Bob had to move the lecture series to the old Hancock building’s huge auditorium.

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Indeed, to this day, priests of certain age ask me about Fr. Quinn because his name and energy were so well-known through this great pastoral gift to the Archdiocese.

Fr. Bob’s pastoral imagination and energy hardly ended after the Second Vatican Council. In the next few decades, while still celebrating the liturgy at St. Joseph’s Church in the West End and later here at St. Mary’s, Fr. Bob started a unique ministry under the less-than-transparent title “The Park Street Corporation.” When priests and the Church were being urged to bring the Gospel into Main Street, Fr. Bob quietly gathered leaders from wide spectrum of urban life for off-the-record conversations about how to make the city a better place for all. Away from the press’s spotlight and with Fr. Bob’s vision, these leaders could converse freely to bring together a synergy of ideas for the common good. During this period, Fr. Bob was also chosen to be the chaplain for the Massachusetts House of Representatives. A colorful expression of priestly ministry, to be sure.

But. But.

When Christians gather, even to celebrate the life of one of their own, it is not the story of that person that is primarily recounted. Rather it is the Christian story.

So this morning, we heard dimensions of that story…

  • “The souls of the just are in the hand of the God, and no torment shall touch them… their end seemed to be total destruction, but they are in peace.” (Wisdom)
  • “Our baptism is baptism into Christ Jesus, and if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him.” (Romans)
  • “The will of the one who sent me is that I should not lose anything of what he gave me, but that I should raise it on the last day… my Father’s will is that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life.” (Gospel of John)

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This is the story we gather to hear in order to understand Fr. Bob and ourselves within it. Fr. Bob Quinn “saw the Son and believed in him” and served him faithfully as a priest for more than sixty-two years. And as a priest, he, over and over, gathered the people, told the story, and broke the bread. And, as a Christian, he knew and believed that the one who—through his large and wonderful family—gave him life and would never, never, take it from him. The God of Abraham and Sarah, the God of Jesus, would never let even physical death ultimately take life away from him.

For Fr. Bob—and all Christians—knew that ours is not a “life after death religion.” Indeed, we Christians do not believe simply in life after death; we simply believe in life. And so our faith, our story consoles us in this moment of sorrow that our God grants us a life eternal.

And finally, after more than eighty-nine years —with a number of “false calls” this last year— our God has taken Fr. Bob unto himself for life, for life eternal.

That is Fr. Bob’s Story; at is the Christian story; at is our story.

We have told it, in all gratitude for Fr. Bob’s presence in our life. Now we get on with the “breaking of the bread.”

“May the Lord bless him and keep him; may the Lord make His light shine upon him; may the Lord hold him in his glance all his days.” (Numbers)