Bishop Francis A. Quinn, a widely beloved community leader who exerted moral authority with a gentle touch as the spiritual head of Catholics in the Sacramento region, died Thursday. At 97, he was the oldest living bishop in the United States at the time of his death.
Quinn served from 1980 to 1994 as bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Sacramento, which covers 42,000 square miles in 20 counties. He led a growing flock in Northern California, including seven new parishes, two elementary schools and one high school that opened under his leadership.
He encouraged lay Catholics – especially women – to take active roles in church governance and ministries. He supported ordination of deacons to help alleviate the shrinking ranks of priests.
But his influence extended beyond Catholics. People in all walks of life respected his moral leadership and responded to his genial, soft-spoken manner.
A tall, thin man with white hair, Quinn blended in easily outside the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament in black slacks, a polo-style shirt and Reeboks. Unpretentious even in his ceremonial robes and miter, he greeted worshippers after Mass with a sly grin, disarming sense of humor and keen memory for names.
His humility also helped strengthen ecumenical relationships. Leaders of other religions welcomed his efforts to promote interfaith dialogue, and he was a frequent speaker at non-Catholic services.
Quinn inspired faith through action. He went out of his way to minister to people on the margins of society, including death-row inmates and AIDS patients. He distributed groceries at food closets and washed dishes in soup kitchens. He roamed K Street Mall at night, slipping $20 bills to homeless people.
An advocate for social justice, he spoke out against human rights violations, nuclear arms and U.S. military intervention in Central America. He publicly criticized local officials for raids on homeless campers, and he led prayers for immigrants outside the federal courthouse.
The Most Rev. Jaime Soto, Roman Catholic Bishop of Sacramento, released the following statement today on the passing of Bishop Emeritus Francis Anthony Quinn at 97, the 7th bishop of Sacramento and a much beloved figure in the Sacramento community:
“Bishop Quinn, at the time of his death, was the oldest Catholic bishop in the United States. A status he enjoyed sharing with the many who visited him. In his quieter moments though, Bishop Quinn was ready and eager to meet the Good Shepherd whom he had served faithfully during his 72 years as a priest, 41 of which as bishop.
“As he approached the divine threshold, Bishop Quinn’s heart resonated with the words of Paul to the Philippians, “It is not that I have already taken hold of it or have already attained perfect maturity, but I continue my pursuit in hope that I may possess it, since I have indeed been taken possession of by Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 3.12)
“Bishop Quinn was also dearly possessed by the many who admired and loved him, Catholics and non-Catholics alike. He was always accompanied by friends and family throughout his long stay at Mercy McMahon. I am grateful to all those who were his companions during the final part of his sojourn. Let us continue to accompany him with our prayers. Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord. May perpetual light shine upon him.”