NORFOLK, Va. — With the Rev. Thomas J. Quinlan, a 71-year-old chain smoker who has a voice like sandpaper, parishioners never know what to expect.
He once rode down the center aisle of the Basilica of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception in Norfolk on a police motorcycle for the Palm Sunday procession. Jaws dropped when he once dressed for Mass as Superman. Some parishioners have sneaked off to other churches for wedding ceremonies to avoid his rather earthy advice about the importance of sex in a marriage.
Quinlan, recently appointed to the Church of the Holy Family in Virginia Beach, says it's part of his job to shake things up. "Don't you think Jesus ruffled the feathers of everyone he ever met?" he said.
If Quinlan refuses to behave, it's partly to avoid "playing footsie with authority" and to avoid the trappings of power, said Monsignor Thomas J. Caroluzza, regional vicar for southeastern Virginia and a friend.
Quinlan's last church contributed more money than any other in the diocese; at the church he served before that, the congregation tripled during his tenure. He is known for demanding a strong commitment from his congregation, sending "red letters" to members who haven't participated in some kind of church ministry.
Last year, Quinlan, who has battled alcoholism since he was a teen-ager, according to Caroluzza, was convicted of drunken driving.
"He went to his congregation and said, 'I can leave,' " Caroluzza recalled. "They said, 'We don't want you to leave. We want you to change.' His community really loved him. They loved him into sobriety."