Father Edward Quinlan
Hometown: Pennsaucken and Cinnaminson, N.J.
Education: St. Peter School in Merchantville, N.J., Cinnaminson High School, Rutgers University, Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md.
Current Assignment: Pastor of Holy Name of Jesus Parish in Harrisburg
Tell me a little about your childhood and your education.
I was born in Philadelphia, but we grew up in New Jersey, two little spots called Pennsaucken and Cinnaminson. I have two brothers and two sisters, and one of my sisters has since passed away.
In Pennsaucken, we were part of St. Peter’s Parish in Merchantville in the Diocese of Camden. I went there for grades 1-4 and then we moved to St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Cinnaminson, and it was founded the year we moved there. At that point, we moved into public school, and I stayed there through high school.
Then I went on to Rutgers in Camden, and I did three years there studying history. During my third year is when I finally made my decision to study for the priesthood. At Rutgers, I had some philosophy courses, but my concentration was history, so they sent my records to a couple places, and Mount St. Mary’s in Emmitsburg came back with an ambiguous reply. I drove there to meet with Father Harry Flynn, and I was able to finish the necessary philosophy courses, plus finish the degree in my senior year.
When did you first consider the priesthood?
It was fourth grade. We had wonderful Franciscan Sisters from somewhere up in New York. In those days, it was not uncommon to go to the seminary after eighth grade. Very clearly, there was something drawing me at that point.
When we moved and I went to public school, I got away from having to think about all that. But every now and then, it would keep coming back up.
When I was preparing for college, I was really thinking of a military career. I had applied to West Point, and the Army had given me an offer to go to a prep school at Fort Benning with the prospect of next year heading up to the academy. I was impatient, so I went to Rutgers because I was accepted there. But in the fall of my sophomore year, I went to see the people at the Naval Yard in Philadelphia and we talked. They had a program where you would do summer training, then you would be commissioned when you graduated I signed up in January 1972. I was sworn in to the Reserves, and received my instruction to report for training in June.
There were two busloads of us that came from the Philadelphia area to Quantico for summer training. As I got there, there was a distinct sense that I’m missing something. I think I was slowly coming to the awareness and was really trying to avoid answering the question about a priestly vocation.
I went back to school and worked at the A&P grocery store, and just continued to wrestle with the question. There were several things that were kind of coming together. The regional vice president approached me and asked if I would be interested in management in the company…. Than, that Sunday at Mass, the priest in his homily said, “Just a couple of thoughts about vocation. There are those out there who have a vocation but either don’t know it or choose not to respond.” I sat in the pew and thought, “Oh goodness, he’s talking directly to me.” By January of that year, I went to see the vocations director.
What advice would you give a young person who is exploring the different options on the table?
I think the ultimate key is to have some kind of prayer life. I didn’t have a focused or deep, meditative prayer life, but a lot of times I’d take my motorcycle and go riding down through the Pine Barrens in Jersey and mull over life. It was as close as I would have gotten to some kind of reflection or meditation. A lot of those times, you realize that you maintain that openness to God. Do what you think you need to do, but maintain that openness to God. Eventually, he will help you to see what you need to see.
How did you end up becoming a priest for the Diocese of Harrisburg, and where have you served?
My family moved here in 1974, and my early pastoral assignments from the seminary were in the Diocese. So I decided to transfer over, realizing my parents were settled here. I was ordained in 1978 by Bishop Daley.
Good Shepherd in Camp Hill was my first assignment. It was a wonderful assignment with an active school. The Sisters of the Immaculate Heart were there in the school. Then I went to the Cathedral as assistant and Harrisburg Hospital as chaplain. It was a wonderful assignment, to have that opportunity to take care of the pastoral needs of the sick. My first pastorate was at St. Joseph in Danville, with a big community with the Geisinger Medical Center. I was also in Mount Carmel as administrator of Holy Spirit School and part-time assistant at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish. And I was pastor at St. Matthew’s in Dauphin. Now I’m here at Holy Name.
I wound up going to Marywood University to work on my administrative degree in education, then I went to Bishop McDevitt as assistant principal, then on to Delone as principal, and then back to McDevitt as principal. Then I spent 22 years as Diocesan Secretary for Education, succeeded by Dan Breen in 2019.
We are so blessed in this Diocese to have so many good people working in Catholic schools. Our principals, our teachers, our parents who are devoted. We’ve been very blessed, and I think in many ways we still have a strong system of Catholic schools.
What do you enjoy in your free time?
Not long after I was appointed to the Education Office, the Norbertines were leaving some assignments in the Diocese, so Bishop Dattilo asked if I would go to St. Matthew’s in Dauphin as pastor. It’s a wonderful place in the mountains. When I had some time on a Saturday morning or Sunday afternoon, I would hike through the game lands and the ridgetops. I used to love going fishing, especially down at the Jersey Shore. That’s one of the things we grew up with. I also have a motorcycle and I occasionally like to go out for a ride.
Workaholics don’t do themselves or anybody else any favors. The reality is, with the demands, sometimes you just can’t say no. We do look for opportunities to take a little break from time to time.
What is on your horizon now as pastor of Holy Name?
We just started a capital campaign, and we’re going to be working on some building projects. One of the things is, I have no office, the assistant has no office, and we share a little meeting room to meet with people in the middle of the parish office. Our plan to build a new residence, convert the parish office, renovate the cafeteria and social hall, and complete the lower level of the old church into meeting space.
The Called: Father Edward Quinlan
Father Edward Quinlan
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