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Monsignor Thomas Aquinas Quirk was born March 7, 1845, in Clonmel, Ireland, the eldest of twelve children. His father was English, his mother Irish. From his mother, Quirk inherited the Catholic faith that eventually led him to West Virginia, where he earned the nickname “Padre of the Hills.”

In 1862, following in his father’s footsteps, Quirk joined the English army at 17. He was sent to the United States to study tactics of the Union army during the Civil War. He joined the 69th Infantry of New York, and took part in several skirmishes throughout Virginia during the war.

In 1865 Quirk returned to Ireland. He aided in the escape of a prisoner during Ireland’s Fenian uprising, and fled shortly thereafter for France. While in Paris he studied at the Irish College and the Seminary of Saint Sulpice. Bishop Richard Whelan, an alumnus of Saint Suplice, was the founding bishop of the Diocese of Wheeling. When Whelan put out a call to his alma mater recruiting priests for the Wheeling diocese, Quirk accepted, relocating to the United States for a second time.

Quirk was ordained by Bishop Whelan on August 31, 1870, in Wheeling, and following ordination was sent to Parkersburg. After nearly two years in Parkersburg Quirk was assigned to Huntington, becoming the first Catholic pastor to serve in Cabell County. In Huntington Quirk established the St. Joseph parish and built the first Catholic church in that area.

On September 6, 1875, Quirk unknowingly conversed with Frank and Jesse James shortly before the James Gang robbed the Bank of Huntington. Quirk did not recognize the famous outlaws until after the robbery had occurred.

Quirk spent 12 years in Huntington. In 1884 he was relocated to Lewis County, where he resided until his death 53 years later. Over the course of that time, Quirk relied upon six different horses to visit his parishioners; one horse, Prince, carried Quirk on his visits for 22 of those years. Quirk ministered not only to the people of Lewis County, but also to the people of Upshur, Randolph, Braxton, Webster, and Gilmer counties. During the winter of 1893 he made upwards of 80 sick calls upon horseback. On another occasion, on the Saturday before Easter, Quirk rode 13 miles in one night to administer last rites to a dying mother and returned exhausted the next morning to his church in time for Easter mass.

In 1909 Quirk oversaw construction of a new church, St. Bernard’s, on Loveberry Ridge in Lewis County. St. Bernard’s was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1985.

Quirk was given the title of Monsignor in 1935. Due to complications from a fall (a stroke, according to one source) and a severe chest cold, Quirk died September 12, 1937, in his home on Loveberry Ridge. He had been the last remaining survivor of the Civil War in Lewis County. Upon his death he was buried in the cemetery at St. Bernard’s, and his obituary ran in the New York Times. He was 92.

Read the National Register nomination for St. Bernard Church and Cemetery.

This Article was written by Jeffrey Webb

Last Revised on July 07, 2022


Kraus, Robert Mark. "The Life of the Right Reverend Monsignor Thomas Aquinas Quirk.." M.A. thesis, St. Mary’s Seminary, Baltimore, 1938.

Monsignor Thomas Acquinas [sic] Quirk. Weston Democrat, September 17, 1938.

Mullooly, Jim. Monsignor Thomas Quirk Remembered. The Catholic Spirit, 2002.

Cite This Article

Webb, Jeffrey "Monsignor Thomas Quirk." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 07 July 2022. Web. 17 July 2024.


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