Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Thomas Quirk Remembered part 2

Jim Mullooly, cousin to many of Orlando's Irish, has done extensive research on Fr. Thomas Aquinas Quirk. This is the second of two articles in The Catholic Spirit published by the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston in 2002.
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.
by Jim Mullooly
It was on September 12, 1872 that Bishop Richard Whalen, having tested the young Father Thomas Quirk in the outback of Parkersburg, assigned him to a more remote frontier. Here he built two churches and literally built up the Catholic Church where only a handful of Catholics existed. Centered at Guyandotte and the newly established city of Huntington, Thomas Quirk was the bishop’s man to lay the foundation in all respects. This included opening a school with himself as sole teacher for several years. The school drew many Protestants. The few Catholic schools in the diocese at the time were of quality and were often the only educational institution available. In Father Quirk’s case, his particular skills could meet the needs of advance students aspiring to further college training.

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
The opening of the state to industry and settlement had several disadvantages. In the decades after the Civil War, work building the railroads, harvesting lumber and coal and later gas and oil, brought in droves of settlers, many of them Catholic immigrants. There were countless industrial accidents associated with harsh employment conditions and a cheaper labor pool. Also the railroads, the river pack boats, in particular, brought outside contagions such as small pox, yellow fever, typhoid. The diocese at that time excluded the eastern panhandle of West Virginia but extended down to include the southwestern corner of Virginia. Father Quirk held faculties, at their request, for three dioceses, that of Kentucky, Ohio and his own. Constantly called to travel up the Tug, down the Sandy up to Point Pleasant and crossing the Ohio in a skiff to reach the outback of Gallipolis, he anointed people dying of those illnesses and injuries. Once he donned a rubber suit given by the attending physician to minister to the dying victim of yellow fever. “I had a chance to see the ‘black bile’ associated with that disease” he reported in his Diocesan History. It was during these years, riding up and down the steep hills of the region that the largely Protestant community, comparing him to the circuit riding preachers of the previous generation, titled him the “Little Padre of the Hills.”

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
Father Quirk appealed his assignment to the then archbishop of Baltimore arguing that it was a demotion, rather than a promotion, and that he was personally responsible for a period of the finances of the new church he had built in Huntington. There was ill-feelings between the bishop and Father Quirk, probably due to the fact that Bishop Kain identified him as the probable leader for a petition drive to replace Bishop Whalen with a local priest of the Wheeling Diocese, rather than an outsider, so that Whalen’s policies could continue uninterrupted. There was a sense of the bishop taking this personally and “retaliating” against the six signatories of the “Round Robin” petition (wherein the signatures encircled the text and no one signed first.) At the very least there was a clash of philosophy if not personality. This was only the first of several causes requiring the archbishop’s mediation between Father Quirk and Bishop Kain. His reluctance to move was also due to his connections in the area, particularly to several orphans he had taken under his wing.

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
His interest in orphans would continue over time, placing many from St. John’s Children’s Home (then “Orphanage”) of Wheeling with families in his parish. We often note his sending extra money that he came by, for the support of these Wheeling orphans. He always requested the strictest anonymity when doing so. Some orphans he would reserve for himself, i.e. Henry Gill, Vincent Felton, Joe Ahern, Julia Benton and others unknown to us. He raised all of these mentioned, providing whatever secondary schooling was needed such as sending Julia to DeSales Heights on Parkersburg. Henry Gill married neighbor William McCudden’s daughter and moved to Pittsburgh. However his wife Ellen died suddenly on a visit home in 1911. Vincent Felton eventually moved to New Jersey and would return in later years with his wife to pass time with Father Quirk. Julia married Thomas V. Craft and raised a family in Weston. Father Quirk could be seen riding into Weston along Camden Avenue to have Sunday dinner with Julia, her husband and children. He would always bring a sack of candy.

“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.

Right: Bishop Donohue

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.

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