If it’s odd, it just might be God.
That philosophy of taking God’s nudges as they come is one Deacon Gerard “Gerry” Quinn has kept in mind throughout his 41 years — and counting — as a permanent deacon.
Pope Francis awarded Deacon Quinn the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice Cross, or Papal Cross of Honor, for his service to the Church, particularly in canon law. Archbishop Mitchell Rozanski presented Deacon Quinn with the diploma and insignia after Mass Jan. 19 at the Cardinal Rigali Center.
“Deacon Quinn has exercised a great deal of pastoral solicitude to those whom he has served as a permanent deacon and canon lawyer,” Father Philip Bené, judicial vicar for the archdiocese, said. “He is known for his kind disposition and great dedication to helping others.”
The Papal Cross of Honor was established by Pope Leo XIII in 1888 to commemorate his golden sacerdotal jubilee. Ten years later, it became a permanent papal distinction, awarded to laypeople and clergy for distinguished service to the Church.
According to archdiocesan records dating back to the 1940s, Deacon Quinn is the first clergy member — and first man — to receive the award in the archdiocese. The honor was last bestowed in the archdiocese in 1986, when Roxie Christina Rask of St. Raymond Maronite Church received the award.
“I am blown away,” Deacon Quinn said. “It is really not about me. It really represents all the men and women, particularly those folks that agreed to be volunteer advocates for the tribunals that I’ve been associated with… I’m just a regular guy who was in the right place at the right time when some hole had to be filled.”
A young vocation
Deacon Quinn, 75, is a graduate of St. Joseph School in Cottleville and St. Louis Priory School. He attended Cardinal Glennon College for three years to discern a call to the priesthood. After leaving the seminary, he finished his degree at the University of Missouri-Columbia and took a position teaching history and theology at Helias High School in Jefferson City, Missouri.
At Helias, Deacon Quinn met his wife, JoAnn, a Spanish teacher, and the couple married in 1975. Just one year later, at age 30, he began his formation for the permanent diaconate in the diocese of Jefferson City.
“I had always been involved in the life of the Church,” Deacon Quinn said. “Because we were involved in the life of the diocese of Jeff City, (the diaconate) became, frankly for me, the next logical step.”
The permanent diaconate didn’t exist in the U.S. when Deacon Quinn was discerning the priesthood at Cardinal Glennon College. Pope Paul VI authorized the restoration of the permanent diaconate in the U.S. in 1968.
Deacon Quinn said his Christ-centered marriage and JoAnn’s support and encouragement were vital as he discerned his vocation to the diaconate.
“Right from the beginning, we saw service to the Church as kind of the core of who we are as people,” he said.
Deacon Quinn was ordained to the permanent diaconate on Dec. 13, 1980. He received a special dispensation to be ordained at the age of 34 instead of the required 35.
A nudge into canon law
Deacon Quinn devoted much of his career to canon law work, but his first foray into a tribunal came about simply because the need was there.
“There was a real need in the tribunal of Jefferson City at the time for somebody to just help the chief justice keep the cases moving,” he said.
Following the nudge of God, Deacon Quinn found the work to be a good fit, and he later earned his licentiate degree in canon law from The Catholic University of America.
In 1984, the Quinn family moved to St. Louis. Over the next 35 years, Deacon Quinn served in courts and tribunals in St. Louis, Chicago, Springfield, Indianapolis, San Antonio and Washington, D.C. To help increase Catholics’ and non-Catholics’ access to the services of diocesan tribunals, Deacon Quinn trained volunteer advocates to assist in the process and outreach.
In addition to his canon law work, Deacon Quinn taught at Ursuline Academy and St. Louis University High School, and he served as director and associate director of the archdiocesan Office of the Permanent Diaconate. His experience of raising a family while ministering as a deacon helped him understand the joys and challenges men in formation were facing, he said.
“The formation of a married individual for service as a permanent deacon is, I think, one of the most challenging formation tasks,” he said. “You’re not only forming a man like you do in the seminary; you’re actually forming a couple, a family, to understand the demands that ministry will place on the husband.”
Deacon Quinn brought his spirit of accompaniment to his parish ministry, whether it was using his teaching background to assist with RCIA classes or walking alongside families who recently lost a loved one while helping with funerals.
“A permanent deacon is always looking out to see who is not being served in the life of the Church,” he said. “There’s always someone who’s looking to the ministry of the Catholic Church to assist them.”
‘Whatever little good’
Although Deacon Quinn is now retired, he finds plenty of ways to serve. He still helps out at the Metropolitan Tribunal, and he spends time at Regina Cleri home for retired priests, assisting at Mass and as “priest Uber” for residents who need transportation. He and his wife — who teaches part-time at St. Peter School in Kirkwood and is marking her 50th year of Catholic school teaching — are part of a couples’ prayer group. He also helps lead virtual retreats.
He is assigned in retirement to St. Mary Magdalen Parish in south St. Louis, where he spent many years of his active ministry, too. He’s enjoying a little more free time to read books and keep up with his children and grandchildren. And as long as he’s able, he’ll keep serving in whatever small — even odd — ways may open up to him.
That’s really all the explanation he can find for his Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice Cross.
“This award is about trusting that God will use whatever little good you think you are doing,” he said. “It isn’t little at the end of the day.”
>> Interested in the diaconate?
There currently are 211 active deacons ordained for the Archdiocese of St. Louis. Permanent deacons are ordained clergy who exercise a ministry of liturgy, word and charity. Some also may earn faculties to preach homilies at Mass.
Deacons serve in parishes, hospitals and archdiocesan agencies, among other areas. Many work full-time jobs and balance their family lives and professions with their ministry as a deacon.
The archdiocesan Office of the Permanent Diaconate will next hold information sessions on the diaconate in September and October, with the next formation cohort beginning in September 2023. The program takes five years to complete.
To learn more about the requirements, visit archstl.org/permanent-diaconate or contact Deacon Dale Follen at [email protected] or (314) 792-7433.
>> The Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice Cross
The Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice Cross was instituted by Pope Leo XIII in 1888 to commemorate his golden sacerdotal jubilee, or 50th anniversary of ordination to the priesthood. The award, also known as the Papal Cross of Honor, was made a permanent papal honor 10 years later.
The cross is awarded to both clergy and laity for distinguished service to the Church. The bishop or archbishop nominates individuals of his diocese for the award, which is conferred by the pope. The cross was initially issued in three degrees —gold, silver and bronze — but in 1908, Pope St. Pius X decreed that the cross should only come in gold.
The medal, shaped like a cross with pointed ends, depicts St. Peter and St. Paul. On the left arm of the cross is the inscription “Pro Ecclesia” (“For Church”); on the right arm, “Et Pontifice” (“and Pope”). The pope’s coat of arms is at the bottom. The medal hangs from a yellow and white ribbon, the colors of the Vatican flag.