|Venerable Edel Quinn
September 14, 1907
May 14, 1944
Louise and Charles Quinn were the proud parents of their first child, a daughter, born to them in County
Cork on September 14, 1907 on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.
She received her name quite by accident as it is told. At the baptism ceremony, Charles Quinn requested
the parish priest to christen the little one as Adele. The priest understanding Charles to say “Edel”, thought
it to be so charming to call the infant after the edelweiss, a tiny white flower. So he baptized her Edel Mary.
As it turned out the feast day of which she was born and the name she bore were very prophetic signs of
the life that lay before her.
Her father, Charles Quinn was in the banking profession, therefore they had to move often throughout
Ireland, In 1924 they finally settled in Dublin. Edel had three sisters and one brother.
In her early years, Edel was known to be somewhat of an imp with an air of gaiety about her. Very soon her
unselfishness was displayed in her practice of serving the poor.
Graceful and charming, she enjoyed playing the piano, dancing, golfing, tennis and engaging in cricket.
Even then, she was shining as a leader and as a team captain.
On Sunday mornings she would attend two Holy Masses and received Holy Communion. She would then
rejoin her family for breakfast after which she attended five more masses and benediction. While she could
be considered the active Martha, she also had a very private but very deep prayer life. She desired to
receive the Blessed Sacrament as often as she could. Her time in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament,
and receiving the Eucharistic Christ, was as necessary to her as breathing.
Even prior to her Legionary days, she would often spend her lunch hours visiting the sick or doing some
service for shut-ins.
She was basically a very shy individual. Conversely, speaking with others and social visiting caused her
tremendous effort and strain. Nevertheless, she would do these things willingly and always cheerfully
knowing what peace and happiness it brought. It was indeed a God given talent she had been blessed with
in making others happy.
In 1927, when she was about 19, she was working as a secretary for a firm in Dublin. She always bore a
cheerful face and her eyes sparkled with vitality. A young Frenchman by the name of Pierre was quite taken
by her beauty and spirit. While having lunch, as they often would do, he took her totally by surprise. "I
have something very important to speak with you about.” He continued to tell her of his love for her and
that he would very much like for her to be his wife. The smile on Edel's face suddenly turned to pain. "Oh
Pierre" she exclaimed, "I am not free to marry as it is my great desire to enter the Franciscan Poor Clares."
Pierre had thought of just about every rejection there could be but this was one he had not contemplated.
Little did they know on that day that neither would Edel be wife or nun in her lifetime! She would, however,
Edel was introduced to the Legion of Mary through a friend of hers. It did not take long before her
leadership abilities were obvious. Within two years she was appointed president of the group working with
In 1931, Edel's parents gave their eldest daughter their blessing to enter the religious life. Edel applied to
the Poor Clares and arrangements were made to receive her early in 1932. Just at the time when she was
ready to begin, she was suddenly taken ill. The diagnosis was tuberculosis and she was ordered to
Necastle Sanatorium in County Wicklow. She would be in this hospital for the next eighteen months. Edel
rested only under strictest orders. When she was forced to rest, she read from St. Therese of Lisieux's
writings which inspired her through her sufferings.
In 1933, she returned home. Edel used her two weeks vacation to do promotion work in the diocese of
Menvia, North Wales. She had an amazing talent to organize new Legion groups. She offered herself to full
time evangelization and promotion work.
By 1936, the Legion of Mary had extended to points as far apart as the United States and Africa. As Dublin's
Legion leaders discussed a possible promoter, Edel's name came up. Some feared sending Miss Quinn
because of her evidently fragile health. The matter was raised at the Legion's top council, the Concilium.
There was an eloquent and very strong- willed Carmelite priest, Rev. Dr. Magennis who spoke against the
appointment. Being familiar with East Africa, the dangers, diseases, and primitive conditions, he poured
out a torrent of objections about sending this feeble girl. Edel rose and explained, "I know of all these
difficulties you have explained and it is exactly what I am looking for. I don't want to go on any picnic."
Father immediately responded, "Picnic! You will make a nice picnic for someone out there!" Everyone
gently chuckled. Frank Duff, listened to this exchange and chimed in, "I call on all of you to witness that the
picnic will not be a substantial one." Once again, this created gentle laughter. Edel, feeling she may have
been disrespectful to the priest, begged his forgiveness. He then blessed her as she knelt before him. "Go
off on your mission as God himself summons you to do this."
On October 24, 1936, she departed her beloved Ireland. She was never to see her country again.
On November 23, Edel disembarked at Mombasa, the gateway to Kenya in East Africa. Immediately then to
Nairobi, where she planned to establish her Legion headquarters.
Edel, had her work cut out for her as Nairobi's Catholics lived within their own ethnic group and made few
attempts to welcome others into the household of the faith. African Catholics avoided the Indians.
European Catholics were not at ease with either Indians or Africans. The Goans, immigrants from an Indian
Portuguese colony, formed the largest Catholic numerical group.
Deciding to unite Europeans and Goans in the first pioneer Legion group, Edel called her first meeting of
interested persons on December 7, 1936. Twenty five Catholics, among them five Goans, arrived for the
meeting. The group was not lacking its pessimists exclaiming they did not need another religious
organization. This disturbed one woman who exclaimed that she had fourteen children in need of religious
instruction. Six women immediately responded to the challenge and accepted this duty. Hence, the first
preasidium was founded in Nairobi. Edel entitled it to be the praesidium of the Immaculate Conception.
She faced language difficulties by putting translators to work preparing Swahili and some six other African
versions of the Tessera , the official Legion prayers. Witch doctors, unhappy with the advances of a
foreign religion, threatened new Christians and their families with curses, taboos and evil spells. In spite of
her trials, by April 1937, she had founded enough praesidia to establish a general council of the Legion,
called a Curia.
The miracle occurred. What was thought to be the impossible among Kenya's Catholics actually took
place. The Legion had cut across the ethnic and social barriers that were separating Catholics. The Mass
was preached in Swahili and English; an African choir sang a hymn to the Blessed Virgin; each member of
the congregation, Goan, European, and African went forward to renew before Our Blessed Lady's throne
the act of consecration, "I am all thine, my Queen and my Mother and all that I have is thine."
A nun, summarized Edel as kind and a person with great simplicity. Her cheerfulness captured the hearts of
all. Clearly, she was a most beloved child of our Blessed Lady, a real saint.
In 1938, Edel purchased a six year old Ford V-8 coupe. She called it her Rolls Royce. At the insistence of
Legion authorities, Edel hired a chauffeur named Ali. He knew the territories well and customarily packed a
gun in the car to ward off wild animals. Unfortunately, he had an unquenchable thirst for the native beer and
since he was not capable of chauffeuring, Edel had to let him go. This must have caused great pain to Edel.
From then on she did all of her own driving.
She was determined to visit Uganda, a pagan and remote territory. Between late July and October of 1938,
Edel traveled over this territory, visiting the Catholic mission and establishing seventeen Praesidia. Her
favorite Ugandan location was in a leper colony. Three lepers and five workmen comprised the first Legion
In December of 1938, Edel was suddenly stricken with malaria. By the end of January, 1939, the malaria had
subsided and her labors continued.
In September of 1939 wars blazed across Europe's face. Her work, she maintained was just beginning,
therefore, she advised Dublin she felt it best to remain.
Edel’s health was fragile. She successfully hid the tremendous fatigue she constantly experienced. Trust
in God's love and do what we can for Him and rely on Him to give us each day the strength for the work He
expects us to accomplish. She felt the weakness which He leaves within her must not hold her back from
her desire to continue His works.
On one occasion, as she was driving to a mission, she got stuck in the mud and had to abandon her car.
After walking ten miles, she reached a hotel. She had just a little rest and summoned a mechanic for her
car. When it was repaired,
she set out for the mission once again. During all that time she did not take any food, in order to receive her
spiritual food, Holy Communion. She was still suffering with bouts of the fever from her malaria.
In January of 1940 she braved the Indian Ocean with submarine infested waters to sail to the island of
Mauitius. Within nine months, she established thirty Legion Praesidia in nineteen different island parishes.
In August of 1940, after her return from the perilous Indian Ocean, rumors throughout East Africa had
spread of Edel's death. With the realization that she was still alive, one missionary wrote; "Dear Miss
Quinn: Many thanks for your letter. I am utterly delighted to know that you really did not die and that once
again we can count you among the living. Of course, you are well aware of the fact that all sorts of really
nice things are said about one after he or she dies. Well, from now on the nice things must cease and we
will start to torment you as of old." In reply to the priest, Edel wrote, "Many thanks for arranging for the
prayers and the Mass to help me out of Purgatory quickly, even though I was not there. What I am now
lamenting is that when I do die, no one will believe it."
In 1940 Edel led the Legion in Nyasaland. She bicycled up and down into the midday in the unbearable
heat. Her vitality and cheerfulness were so prominent that people forgot that tuberculosis was consuming
her. Suddenly she collapsed. Her cable to Dublin explained she had a pleurisy attack, was very weak,
down to seventy five pounds. She knew it impossible to continue work. She explained rest was needed.
Suffering from dysentery, malaria and finally pleurisy, she had no time to stay in bed and get rid of it. Before
she collapsed she had established ten Praesidia in on Nyasaland territory and founded a curia in another.
Doctors ordered Edel to leave Nyasaland tropics to begin a six month rest in cooler climate of
Johannesburg. She entered the Melrose House and later Springkell Sanatorium. Communion only once a
week deprived her of the Eucharist and caused her far more suffering than her physical pain. After six
months, Edel moved to the Dominican Mission Hospital in Umlamli. There she received communion daily
and it gave her a new lease on life. Her strength returned and she was able to return to Nairobi. She wound
up in the hospital in Zululand. She was only allowed to be up for an hour each day. She used this time to
attend Mass and recite the rosary. Somehow she did manage to return to Nairobi.
In May 1943 she could hardly walk. She managed to travel eighty miles by car on a missionary project. In
December she began a six week extension tour in Tanganyika. She caught a cold and her weight began to
drop alarmingly. In March 1944, Edel left Narirobi and went to Kenya. On Friday, May 12, Edel was visited
by her friend, Miss Gannon. Edel emitted a moan and loud cry. The agony she was experiencing was
evident. She was conscious through the last rites and as they concluded she turned to Mother Superior
and asked: "Is Jesus coming?" A gentle and luminous smile lit her face. She was reverently handed her
crucifix. She kissed the crucifix and murmured in an almost inaudible voice: "Jesus." Then Edel died. She
was thirty-six. She had spent nearly eight years in Africa.
On December 15, 1994, Pope John Paul declared Edel Venerable, and the beatification process is
She will be remembered for one of her favorite sayings. . . "Why can't we trust Our Lady?"
A Legionary friend, Mona Tierney wrote the following poem:
What is all when all is told,
That ceaseless striving for fame and gold,
The passing joys and the bitter tears?
We are only here for a few short years.
What is all, just passing through?
A cross for me and a cross for you.
Ours seemed heavy when others' seemed light,
But God in the end sets all things right.
And that is all when all is told.
A PRAYER FOR BEATIFICATION OF EDEL QUINN
Eternal Father, I thank you for the grace you gave to your servant, Edel Quinn, of striving
to live always in the joy of your presence, for the radiant charity infused into her heart by
your Holy Spirit, and for the strength she drew from the Bread of Life to labor until death for
the glory of Your name in loving dependence on Mary, Mother of the Church.
Confident, O merciful Father, that her life was pleasing to you, I beg you to grant me,
through her intercession, the special favor I now implore . . . . . ., and to make known by
miracles the glory she enjoys in heaven, so that she may be glorified also by your Church on
earth, through Christ Our Lord, Amen.
|The Edel Quinn Story
A tribute to her remarkable,
adventurous life and deep spirituality.