Vale Bishop Peter Quinn

17 Sep 2008

By The Record

On August 23, Bishop Peter Quinn died aged 80 after a four-month battle with cancer. His funeral Mass was held at Bunbury Catholic College on September 3. Priests and lay alike mourned the passing of a legend. Here, two priests who knew him well and a parishioner who he inspired during his rural ministry write exclusively for The Record about what they believed made the great man tick, and the legacy he left on the State.


Bishop Peter Quinn


Bishop Peter Quinn was one of the sharpest minds in the Church to come out of Perth, says Fr Pat Cunningham, who studied with him at St Charles Seminary.
It all started in the parish of Highgate, where a young Peter Quinn was taught by the Sisters of Our Lady of the Mission in Mary Street, and the Christian Brothers in Harold Street.
As the man himself has attested, the parish provided the seed of his vocation. At his Golden Jubilee, he was asked why he became a priest, and he replied, “The nuns knew us well and we knew them well; we used to run errands for them. At the presbytery, there were three priests who seemed happy in their pastoral life. I decided I wanted to be one like them.”
So in 1942, he became one of the 20 foundation students of St Charles Seminary who had been recruited personally across WA by Rev Dr LJ Goody, later to become Perth’s Archbishop.
Of that original 20, eight became priests, and today two survive – myself and Fr Gaetano Grocetti. In that first 20, five candidates came from Highgate parish, four of them reaching priesthood. Two more followed in subsequent years. At St Charles’ Seminary, Peter Quinn began to show some of his qualities. He had a sharp intellect and a tenacious drive to get to the bottom of a question. Heaven help anyone who took on Peter Quinn for a long discussion. He would not give in easily, and enjoyed every moment of the spirited discussion.
For that reason, it was no surprise that in 1947, he was offered a place at the famous Propaganda Fide College in Rome at which many earlier Perth priests had studied and more were later to do so, including Archbishop Barry Hickey.
His four years of theology studies in Rome included his ordination to the priesthood in December 1951 at which his mother and aunt were present. Several of his contemporaries with him at Propaganda Fide later became members of the Australian hierarchy, Bishops John Gerry of Brisbane, Bishop Bede Heather from NSW, Archbishop Len Faulkner of Adelaide and Archbishop Frank Little of Melbourne, at whose recent funeral Peter Quinn took suddenly ill.
After those four years of study he resided at Casa Pallotti while he studied for three years Canon Law at the Lateran University in Rome. At the end of this, he gained the rare honour of achieving 10 marks (full marks) in every subject except one, whose professor, on principle, would never award full marks.
Like many Canon Law students, he spent six months on a practicum in Boston Archdiocese before returning to Australia. In his first appointment back in his home parish of Highgate in 1955, he blazed a trail by commencing regular sermons in Italian – many priests have formerly spoken Italian in the past, but had never bothered to preach in it, so Bishop Quinn started the practice of regular sermons in Italian – well before the vernacular liturgy.
Also at Highgate, he became a strong supporter of the Xaverian Club for friendships for the ‘older set’.
His gifts and Canon Law background quickly proved to be needed at the Church office and he became part of the staff at St Mary’s Cathedral, with service for a time as secretary to the archbishop.
In the course of time he received his first parish appointment to the new parish of Mirrabooka, which he named after St Gerard Majella to whom his mother, by then his housekeeper, had a strong devotion.
He quickly became a friend of many young families establishing themselves in this new frontier suburb. The accession of Archbishop Goody late in 1968 was to be another turning point in Peter Quinn’s life. The Archbishop called for nominations for the position of Vicar General and Peter Quinn received a resounding vote, at which point Archbishop Goody felt it was appropriate that his new VG should leave Mirrabooka and become administrator of St Mary’s Cathedral with the title of Monsignor.
The same resounding vote was sufficient confirmation for Archbishop Goody that Peter Quinn should be promoted as a potential Auxiliary Bishop. The result was that in August 1969, on the feast of St Augustine, he was consecrated Auxiliary Bishop in St Mary’s Cathedral, taking up the position of parish priest of Nedlands for the next few years.


Having been a chaplain to the British during World War II, Perth retired priest Fr John Chokolich has seen his fair share of upstanding men of honour. But few compare to the towering intellect yet compassionate pastoral care of the late Bishop Quinn, who was his close friend for decades. Here he recounts the quirks of this friendship to The Record.
I first met Bishop Peter Quinn in September 1946. I had just returned from serving in the British Royal Air Force that trained Tito’s men in Algeria.
Keith Sprune, the editor of The Record, had asked me to give a talk on my war experiences and particularly Tito’s Yugoslavia.
Unknown to me, Keith had advertised my talk by putting dodgers (flyers) in The Record newspaper in such a manner: “Fr John Chokolich will talk (on his war experiences) at the Catholic Library”… When I got there, there were about 50 men all wearing a red tie – later I found them to be Tito sympathisers. At the end of my talk they attacked me by saying I was a Yugoslav betrayer etc.
A young 19-year-old Peter Quinn was present and he got up and defended me, saying: “It’s obvious that you are in favour of Russian and Tito’s Communistic ways – why don’t you pack up go either to Russia or Yugoslavia?”
Peter left for Rome to study a couple of weeks later.
We renewed our friendship when he returned from Rome. He was stationed at Highgate and I was at Spearwood. Later when I was appointed parish priest of North Beach, his sisterKath happened to live in the parish and this brought us closer once again.
After he was appointed assistant Bishop of Perth, instead of following Bishop Miles McKeon at Highgate he was appointed parish priest of Nedlands and I was appointed parish priest of Highgate. His sister Kath and their mother returned to live at Highgate, so it was really at Highgate that I got to know him.
After his duties on Sundays he would come to Highgate presbytery either to have tea with us or for a game of Scrabble.
The late Fr Leslie Baccini, who was an excellent Scrabble player, always joined us, along with Monsignor Jim Bourke.
Mrs Val Stevens, my housekeeper – an excellent cook and receiving instructions to be received into the Church – was also a lover of the game and joined us.
Peter, a fierce competitor, sensed a weakness in my game and he always wanted to sit at my left so he could move after me, and on occasions he would score a premium which he was always looking for.
On one occasion I took a while to move, I had a couple of ‘U’s and all the ‘Q’s were out. Peter got up to stretch his legs and when he returned he said, “you have moved – how did you get rid of your ‘Q’s?”
While he was away, Fr Leslie and Val permitted me to play a trick on him by putting the ‘Q’s in the bag.
It was then that I realised why he insisted sitting on at my left. He would lean over and look over my shoulder to see what tiles I had.
In our retirement we met almost weekly.
We both watched TV programs such as Compass and religious and biblical programs, and we would discuss them the following time we met. We were keen readers of the writings of the Fathers of the Church and we were both traditional in our outlook.
Peter loved continental cooking, and cooking being my hobby Peter loved simple peasant and national dishes such as Dalmatian soups and fish brudjet (stew), Italian pastas, Hungarian gulas, Spanish Paella Valenciana (rice with seafood sauce); Pollo al Cacciatore (chicken stew) and Carne inviolate (beef wrapped with cheese, bacon, garlic, parsley and tomato paste).
His favourite pasta was Pasta alla Zangara (with Italian sausages).
Peter was well liked by everybody. He had a friendly disposition and could carry on a conversation with all, the learned and the unlearned.
He was a very good ‘mixer’. He was intellectually gifted and blessed with great pastoral care. Learned as he was, he was always prepared to learn more, particularly in regards to peoples, cultures and traditions so that he could be of help to those seeking help.
He sought to unite the old and the new, and in this way, to me, he was truly a man of Vatican II.
Bishop Peter Quinn, may you rest in peace.


Bishop Peter Quinn… enabler of lay ministry. A tribute from parishioner
Jo Bell.
Reflecting on my association with Bishop Peter Quinn from the day of his installation as Bishop of the Bunbury Diocese in 1982, until we also left the diocese in 2001, I feel his major achievement was encouraging and empowering to the ministry of the laity.
His predecessor, Bishop Myles McKeon, was known for dropping in for morning tea in the most unexpected  and remotest places… and possibly staying for lunch. He had established a precedent of consultation and close collaboration, reflected in the lively and participative Diocesan Pastoral Council meetings, which people enjoyed attending regularly.
Bishop Quinn’s first DPC meeting continued that tradition, as he  listened attentively to delegates from Esperance to Mandurah explaining, proclaiming, complaining and entertaining, in their individual and parish capacities. Indeed he found one delegate’s report so entertaining that he ‘ordered’ her, ‘Never stop coming to these DPC meetings!’
He heard and recognised that the laity were already working hard to spread the faith in this far-flung diocese, where priests and Sisters were relatively few and far between.
He heard our pleas for more information and faith formation. He heard and acted upon an exhortation in Micah, which happened to be the first reading at Mass one particular DPC weekend: ‘With shepherd’s crook lead your people to pasture, the flock that is your heritage, living confined in a forest, with meadowland all around’. (7:14) Most DPC meetings would include some formation sessions, and at least one residential weekend a year, often at the Catholic Youth Camp at Busselton. Saturday night was reserved for community building activities, helped along by a bottle of red and Paul Gee’s guitar. The bishop followed his Irish predecessor’s tradition of entertaining us with hilarious stories. One year he hired a large bus and collected delegates all the way to Esperance – seven hours drive – where we held our weekend meeting.
Some of the lay initiatives which sprouted or flourished in Bishop Quinn’s time were:
– training and formation for Lectors and Eucharistic Ministers,
– establishment of a Charismatic Core Group, and many prayer groups around the diocese;
– a Youth Ministry Office and travelling youth ministry,
– the NET team, which visited every year from Brisbane,
– a training program for teachers of the Billings Method of Natural Family Planning,
– hosting Drs John and Lyn Billings at Busselton in 1982,
– Marriage Encounter, Engaged Encounter, marriage preparation programs,
– Catechists’ training and formation,
– Justice and Peace Committee,
– Houses of prayer at Dardanup and Bridgetown,
– Holy Spirit of Freedom Community at Pemberton, and many more…
No doubt I have missed many… and most of these are still thriving, even if evolving. Others such as Catholic Women’s League, Knights of Southern Cross and the Missions Office were already active.
Two initiatives stand out though, as rare if not unique examples of his commitment to lay ministry. In 1992, he asked a group of lay people, members of the Charismatic Core Group, to conduct the annual retreat for the priests of the diocese. It was a challenging, inspiring and blessed few days for all involved. In the mid-90s he formed a team of clergy, religious and lay people who embarked on a Pastoral Ministry Training program that ran for two years, involving around 200 people in monthly sessions, conducted in different locations throughout the diocese. This became known as ‘The Mustard Seed’, which grows into a large tree, where all kinds of birds can shelter in its branches. More than 100 people completed the program, many of whom are still active in diocesan apostolates and leadership.
He actively participated in most of these sessions, leading his people out into the rich pastures of knowledge and understanding, with much input from teaching staff of the newly established Notre Dame in Fremantle. This is a tribute to a forward-thinking bishop whom we will sadly miss, who enriched the lives of so many by empowering us to develop and use gifts God has given us to enrich the Body of Christ on earth.
Vale and thank you Bishop Quinn.