Bishop DiMarzio has taken steps towards the canonization of a Bedford-Stuyvesant pastor, Msgr. Bernard Quinn. Quinn founded the St. Peter Claver Church between Fulton St. and Jefferson Ave, and the Little Flower Orphanage on Long Island that was twice burnt to the ground by the KKK.
Born in Newark of Irish decent, Quinn served in WWI where he was injured in a mustard gas attack. After the war, he worked in a hospital near Alencon where he became fascinated with the life of Carmelite nun Therese Martin-even living in her home for six months.
Upon his return to Brooklyn, Quinn pursued a position opening the first Catholic Church to serve the African-American community. Even though free African-Americans had lived in Bedford-Stuyvesant since 1820 (seven years before the state abolished slavery) it was not until 1922 that African-American Catholics had a place to worship. When the church opened, parishioners were said to claim it was the first Catholic Church in the Americas to be built by the sweat of blacks for blacks.
The Church was named after St. Peter Claver, a Jesuit priest who fought against slavery in Columbia in the 17th century. St. Peter was said to have signed all Church correspondence “Peter, Slave of the Slaves Forever.”
When Therese was canonized St. Therese of Lisieux in the wake of WWI, Quinn was in a unique position to popularize her name in the United States-having claimed to be the first to say Mass in her birthplace.
Quinn built upon the name of St. Peter Claver, and instead of white washed imagery had murals made of St. Benedict the Moor and African Saints from early Christianity. In the corner of the church, he put up a shrine to St. Therese and for years delivered Little Flower novenas dedicated to the Saint. It was reported that more than 2 million pilgrims journeyed to the shrine from around the country.
When the Brooklyn Daily Eagle attended a mass in 1930, they remarked about how worshipers sat, knelt, and prayed next to one another in unison “regardless of color.” The popularity of Quinn’s services and his devotion to integrating pilgrims with the African-American congregation drew the ire of bigots. In an interview with the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, the pastor of neighboring Nativity Roman Catholic Church commented, “I have said that there is a colored church around the corner and I do object to white people going there. Anyhow, those who go there are not white, they’re yellow.”
Gary Buiso, Saint be praised? Church moves to beatify Civil Rights priest from Bed-Stuy, The Brooklyn Paper
Cause for the Canonization of Msgr. Bernard J. Quinn
William Weer, 2,000,000 Have Sought Aid from Little Flower at Brooklyn Shrine in Less Than Five Years, Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Victoria Marie Davies, St. Peter’s Clavers Parish, Simon Fraser University