Following Loveberry Run at the bottom of the hill to its mouth, Father Quirk nudged his trusty horse up Sand Fork to Crooked Run, past the homes of many fellow sons of Erin. Sheep and stock dotted the green and lush meadows. The results of heavy toil were visible everywhere. Following Crooked Run eastward to the southern slope of Pine Knob, the padre ascended the hill opposite to the ridge overlooking Goosepen Run. It was a wonderful view. Well tended farms with placid sheep and fields of corn and wheat passed one after the other. Born in the midst of the Irish potato famine and the time of starvation, Father Quirk was relieved that this was a land of plenty and starvation was not a vexing problem to afflict his flock.
The ridge overlooking Goosepen Run was crossed by a tranquil country road which, within a few miles of his destination, began descending through the Farrell and Dolan farms on Grass Lick Run. The Farrell and Dolan families were faithful members of his St. Michael’s congregation. They looked forward to seeing the approaching Father Quirk on the familiar stocky white horse which that night would be boarded at the Dolan Hotel in Confluence. Ethel Doyle recalls that Father Quirk, even in his late age, followed this route of travel from Loveberry to Orlando, and she can see the stocky white horse in her mind’s eye to this day.
From 1884 until his death in 1937, Thomas Quirk was the pastor of St Michael’s Roman Catholic Church and two sister parishes: St Bridget’s and St Bernard’s. Until the end of his career when he grudgingly allowed himself to be chauffeured in autos, Fr. Donal O’Donovan, in his book, The Rock from Which You Were Hewn, wrote “he traveled his circuit on horseback with vestments, sacred vessels and altar stone strapped to his back.”
“This wonderful man worked unfailingly as a priest throughout his long years of priesthood-sixty-seven in all-and departed this life in a quiet and splendid death at the age of ninety-three. His life of priestly service was such that he has become part of our heritage. Indeed, one is inclined to make the observation, even long after they have placed his body in the earth, one is not quite sure that he is dead.”
In 1987, Martin Sweeney was in his ninety-third year and living in a nursing home in Morgantown when he was interviewed by Earl Heater for an oral history. Sweeney remembered Father Quirk’s dedication to his flock. “He would visit the sick and needy in all kinds of inclement weather throughout the country side.” Ethel Doyle confirms Sweeney’s remembrance. She recalls that she often saw Father Quirk on his trusty horse in the coldest of weather, gloveless, with his hands blue from the cold. His dedication was perhaps the source of the reverence in which he was held by his flock, members of whom would travel from church to church within the parish each Sunday to hear his consoling words of praise to God. Assigned to the wilds of central West Virginia, with far-flung parishes to tend and to nourish, Fr. Quirk unflinchingly served his call. Speaking of Fr. Quirk, Donal O’Donovan spoke of his dedication:
“In the winter of 1893, Father Quirk made eighty-three sick calls. On one occasion, he saddled his horse at midnight to ride thirteen miles to administer the sacraments to a dying young mother who had just given birth to her baby. He returned home on Easter Sunday morning in time to offer Mass for his congregation.”
Left: Ethyl Doyle
Martin Sweeney felt that his flock was as dedicated to Father Quirk as Father Quirk was dedicated to God. Helena McCudden was one of Father Quirk’s faithful who traveled from church to church to partake of Fr. Quirk’s sermons. A longtime teacher in southern Courthouse District, Helena lived below St. Bernard’s on Loveberry and was devoted to her pastor. She authored historical manuscripts about St. Bernard’s Church and Fr. Qurk which are archived with the National Park Service of the Department of Interior.
Father Quirk spoke little about himself and his family. Some of the biographical information about Father Quirk given by his relatives appears incorrect and does not jibe with the well-researched biographical information given by Fr. Donal O”Donovan in his book referenced herein about the history of the Catholic Church in Lewis County.
gives Fr. Quirk’s place of birth as County Cork, Ireland in 1845. The family consisted of nine sons and five daughters. Beginning in local schools, Thomas was selected to attend a classical school directed by Cistercian monks at Mount Mellary in County Waterford.
.Left: map of southern end of Ireland, yellow dot is in County Cork where Fr. Quick was born & raised. Mt Mellary in County Waterford is just east of County Cork.
Left and Right: Photos not of the hills in central WV, but of the hills between young Thomas Quirk's home in County Cork and his school at Mt Mellarey Abby in County Waterford.
Right: Dr. Rohrbach, President of Glenville College and admirer of Fr. Quirk
Horses also were a great love of Fr. Quirk. Sweeney recalls how Father Quirk loved to ride and that he was quick to accept a challenge from anyone on the road to see whose horse was the fastest. Father Quirk’s four-legged traveling companions over the fifty-three years of his service to his churches were named Bob, Remy, Partnership, Trixy, and Prince. Donal O'Donovan said Father Quirk's favorite horse was Prince, his last one, and that Prince outlived his master.
Thomas Quirk's handwriting and signature, from the bottom a certificate of marriage.
The Fox Hounds Meet the PriestTom Pumphrey grew up on Goosepen and lived there during his early life. Tom recalls many years ago that a Mr. Brinkley who lived in the Roanoke area voiced to him a half-hearted complaint against Father Quirk. One evening, Mr. Brinkley was enjoying a lively fox hunt with his pack of fox hounds. The hounds had the wily, but exhausted fox cornered and was going in for the kill when Father Quirk, returning from a late night call, chanced upon the battleground. Deeming the odds unfair to the fox, Father Quirk got off his horse, found a club and beat off the frantic dogs, allowing the fox to escape. Tom could tell that Mr. Brinkley was not too upset with the padre who was held in the highest respect by the whole of southern Lewis County.
Left: Tom Pumphrey
Right: Agnes and Tom Murphy, the parents of Ethyl Doyle, two of the many parishioners who traveled to Loveberry to say their goodbyes to their beloved pastor
A Buggy Ride to Loveberry
Even the Good Must DieFor over fifty years, Fr. Quirk ministered to the spiritual needs of his Orlando brethren and became a part of its history for the ages. Even today, the name of Fr. Quirk is a recognized and beloved name to Lewis County Catholics born years after his death. A short time before his death, Fr. Quirk was elevated to Monsignor by Pope Pius XI, adding to his legend. True to his religious and personal modesty, Fr. Quirk referred to the high honor as “ballyhoo” and as “throwing high honors on an old bag of bones.”
Thomas Aquinas Quirk, pastor of St. Michael’s of Orlando, passed away quietly in September 15, 1937 and was laid to rest at his beloved Loveberry home in the cemetery of St. Bernard’s.
“We give thanks to Almighty God for the gift of Thomas Aquinas Quirk to this Wild Wonderful West Virginia. We give thanks to his wonderful parents and family for a wonderful son who gave his life for the Glory of God in a foreign land.
Well could he utter at the end of his life those beautiful thoughts expressed by a fellow countryman, Padraic Pearse, poet and patriot:
. . . . . Lord, I have staked my soul
. . . . . I have staked the lives of my kin,
. . . . . On the truth of Thy dreadful word,
. . . . . Do not remember my failures
. . . . . But remember my faith.
''Deep peace of the Son of Peace to You,' Father Thomas Aquinas Quirk.”
Please see also This Day in West Virginia History
The monastery at Mt Melleray was built in the 1830s, not long before young Thomas attended school there. Mt. Melleray was the first monastery to be built in Ireland since the Reformation in the 1500s. It is active today and is available for individual retreats. Telephone:+353 (0)58 54 404
The seminary of St. Sulpice in Paris dates back to the 1600s. "The Sulpician seminaries, above all the one in Paris, were famed for their solid academic teaching and high moral tone." -Wikipedia (Today St. Sulpice is noted for its role in the movie The Davinci Code.)
Left: The pulpit at church of St Sulpice in Paris, attached to the seminary where Thomas Quirk prepared for the priesthood.
comment 2: Donna Gloff
This map of Ireland shows the counties Galway ("G"), Roscommon ("R"), Sligo ("S"), the home counties of most of St. Michael's parishoners, and Cork ("C"). Fr. Quirk's home county and Waterford ("W"), where his school Mt. Melleray was located.