Part 1 of this review of Thomas Quirk’s life discussed his early years in southern Ireland, his service in the Union Army during the Civil War, his studies for the clergy in Paris and his return to America to serve as a missionary.
After studying in Paris, he came to the Diocese of Wheeling and Charleston, to serve under Bishop Richard Whalen. Here he finished his studies for ordination and taught at St. Vincent Seminary. After that he was assigned to serve as a priest in the rural areas from Parkersburg.
Right above: Ordination portrait of Father Thomas Quirk.
Right: Msgr. Thomas Quirk and Bishop Swint
View these photos and many other items clearly at the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston website
He made his home with a prominent Catholic family, the Carrolls, and turned a cornfield into a substantial frame church and attached school at 20th Street and Seventh Avenue, after saying mass for a few months in a shanty near the C & O roundhouse.
Labors In the Vineyard
Huntington was prone to flooding and he noted a section that the cyclical floods never touched. He undertook to build a newer, more substantial church there (1883) and out of his own pocket place the necessary down payments and contracts. The new bishop, John J. Kain, transferred him shortly thereafter to the Sandfork area of central West Virginia. He was responsible for three missionsof St Patrick's Church in Weston, St. Bernard’s on Loveberry Ridge, St Bridget's on Goosepen Road and St. Michael's in the Confluence/Orlando area. At first Father Quirk was not pleased.
Appeals to the Archbishop
Right, above: Bishop Whalen
Right, below: Bishop Kain
However, always faithful to the virtue of obedience, especially relating to the church, her moved to the Sandfork area, arriving on September 12, 1884, with orphans and students in tow. Had the 1890 U.S. Census not been destroyed by fire, we would have been able to recover the names of these children. He stayed with Thomas White on Loveberry Hill until a proper rectory could be built next to St. Bernard’s. Over the years he would seek permission to absent himself a few days to return to Huntington to visit with his erstwhile congregants and the Carroll family.
A Family Man
“Feed My Sheep”
Father Quirk saw himself as a spiritual “caterer” breaking the bread of life in the wilderness for those who had none. Assigned to Sandfork area by the hand of Providence, he refused all opportunities to leave, to “advancement.” This was his true portion, his calling, feeding this particular community, being the hand of Christ in this wilderness. His habit of daily prayer, fasting often, frequent recognition for his need for redemption, his mindful service to all who sought him out, prepared him for the healing work associated with him. Those still alive today who knew him characterize him above all as a healer, a true mediator for God’s grace and healing love. There are continuing reports of breast cancer, skin diseases, goiters in his lifetime and speedy recovery from difficult medical procedures and other healings after his death. His powerful gentleness and convinced faith mediated local disputes and matters of conscience, even applying the unguent of God’s love to community traumas originating in economic, industrial and political assaults.
Bishop Donohue, successor to Bishop Kain, especially relied upon his keen insight and diagnostic ability, his sensitivity and compassion when he would send him out to minister to what we would deem today impaired clergy. His ministry there was full of support and encouragement for his fellow presbyters, but painfully direct when indicated. He was a man of strong opinions, often right, but escaping the mire of self-righteousness and ultimately taking his stand in Pascal’s dictum, “The heart has its reason that Reason knows not.” For years he was a member of the bishop’s Priests Council whose function was continuing evaluation of newly ordained clergy, in areas of theology and pastoral response. This earned him the respect of emerging clergy over the years. At the diocesan retreats the clergy would gather round him like chicks to a mother hen, feeding on every word.
Day to Day
An observer, climbing up Loveberry Hill “on a genial spring day”, as Father Quirk would term it, and in memory’s eternal present, in the late afternoon would quickly note the distinction of a farmer banging on an old tin bucket to gather various critters for feeding. On closer inspection, even in work clothes, he wears the white linen choker of his vocation. Neighbors in need, not members of the congregation, might have just left the rectory with sugar, flour, some money and a blessing from him. Earlier still, he may have gone over to the nearby schoolhouse to visit with and encourage the students. Some would stop by later for some milk and cookies, legendary treats of the long time housekeeper, Annie Doonan. They would have no doubt interrupted her baking of the upcoming Sunday’s hosts in a large double-sided iron held over the wood-fired stove. Later in the evening there would be visitors, friends, congregants gathering on the front porch discussing with Father Quirk the local news and the current events of that time gleaned from, perhaps, the Cincinnati Intelligencer, a gift subscription from his brother Patrick.
Nearby, hear the first cry of the ever-returning whippoorwill.
Jim Mullooly had the privilege of portraying Father Quirk as a living history character. Each year on the Sunday afternoon closest to September 12, there is a liturgy celebrating Father Quirk’s life at St Bernard’s with 60-80 persons in attendance.