A fond farewell to Brother Tony

NORTH CHARLESTON — Parishioners and staff at St. John Church in North Charleston will be saying goodbye to a dear friend at the end of the summer.

Brother Leonard Quinn, CFC, known as Brother Tony because his sacramental name is Antonio, will be leaving in August after nearly 11 years of service. He has been reassigned by his order, the Congregation of Christian Brothers, to St. Matthew Church, a large, predominantly Hispanic parish in Phoenix, Ariz.

“It’s going to be a big loss for everybody here,” said Father Ernest Kennedy, moderator and canonical pastor at St. John. “He has become part of a unique team working together — three brothers and a priest. He’s a team player and doesn’t mind getting his hands dirty.”

Brother Tony, 65, has been a member of the Christian Brothers for 47 years. He joined the order at age 18 after graduating from high school on the west side of Manhattan, where he grew up.

He arrived at St. John in 1997 and currently serves as pastoral associate. Two other Christian Brothers, Brothers Spencer A. Tafuri and Edward Bergeron, also work there.

Brother Tony said the parish he will serve in Phoenix is struggling with dwindling membership and the challenges of serving a bilingual congregation. His work in Arizona will include youth and young adults, and teaching English as a second language.

He has an extensive background in teaching, with a bachelor’s degree in biology education from Iona College in New York, a reading specialist degree from Manhattan College, and a degree in psychology from the College of New Rochelle.

Before the Christian Brothers sent him to the Diocese of Charleston, Brother Tony worked in several locations around New York and nearby Westchester County.

He ran a retreat center for Puerto Rican and Dominican youth in East Harlem, taught in elementary and high schools, and volunteered as a religious educator at several New York parishes.

His work there prepared him for the multi-faceted role he assumed once arriving at St. John with Brothers Ed Bergeron and Ed Cronin, who has since been reassigned.

The parish lost many of its members when the U.S. Navy closed its main base in Charleston in the mid-90s. St. John Catholic School also lost about half of its students when the base closed.

St. John currently serves around 163 households and the school has about 80 students. Many members formerly worked at the naval base and raised their children in the parish.

“Very simply, our duty was to help the parish stay open,” Brother Tony said. He recalls working with Bishop David B. Thompson, Msgr. James A. Carter and others to keep daily life at the parish going.

He said his main goal over the years has been to help people realize their importance in the life of their parish.

Brother Tony said Father Kennedy has been vital to St. John in recent years in serving sacramental needs.  He and  the other Christian Brothers, meanwhile, have worked to fill other needs, such as religious education and daily parish administration.

Father Kennedy said one of Brother Tony’s greatest strengths is his deep spiritual life.

“Underneath all of the other things, he is really a man of prayer,” Father Kennedy said. “Often we don’t emphasize that enough, but that’s where he gets all his energy.”

Brother Tony’s work included prison ministry and other social outreach, helping to process annulments, working with Cursillo and teaching marriage preparation classes.

“People find it easy to talk to him because he’s a people person,” Father Kennedy said. “He brings real heart to his instruction — it’s not just an intellectual process.”

The priest said Brother Tony also was successful in his work with young people as a youth group leader and a CCD instructor. During the 2006-07 school year he worked closely with the confirmation class of 14 students.

“He took on activities I’d never do, like taking the youth kayaking or to the bowling alley,” he said. “The kids really relate to him because he’s very approachable. He’s a very warm person.”

He visited the homebound, ministered to the dying and got to know many of the church families.

“One of the things I especially enjoyed over the years was bringing the Eucharist to many homebound people on Sundays,” Brother Tony said. “I also enjoyed working with the kids. I wanted to make sure that every member of a family felt a role in the parish.”

Brother Tony is happy with his work at St. John School.

“I’m proud of the school, which is just a wonderful place that tries to take care of all the needs of all the kids there,” he said. “I’m especially proud of the way the school has built its outreach over the years.”

Brother Tony will continue his work through the summer. He said it will be difficult to leave.

“I’m very proud of this parish because the people here are very involved in parish life,” Brother Tony said. “The reason this place is open is because of the people. I’ve been very, very conscious of helping to make the people here feel that this is their parish, their community.”