Father Edward J. Quinlan, center, and Father Robert F. Sharman, Director of the Diocesan Office of Pontifical Missions, present the Msgr. George V. Lentocha Mission Award at the annual Education Conference last fall. Father Quinlan is retiring as Diocesan Secretary for Education after 22 years in the position.

Father Edward J. Quinlan, center, and Father Robert F. Sharman, Director of the Diocesan Office of Pontifical Missions, present the Msgr. George V. Lentocha Mission Award at the annual Education Conference last fall. Father Quinlan is retiring as Diocesan Secretary for Education after 22 years in the position.

In his 22 years as Diocesan Secretary for Education, Father Edward J. Quinlan focused on a trifecta of criteria essential to the success of Catholic schools: that they be authentically Catholic in identity and mission; that they offer quality education; and that they are affordable for families.

“When we say that the human person is a composite of body and soul and has an eternal destiny, how can you possibly prepare someone for the rest of their life without reference to their spiritual dimension? Our Catholic education does that very well,” he said.

Father Quinlan, the Diocesan Secretary for Education since 1997, is retiring from the position at the end of this month. Daniel J. Breen, who previously served as Principal of Sacred Heart Cathedral School in Knoxville, Tn., will succeed him as Secretary and as Superintendent of Schools on July 1. Father Quinlan remains pastor of Holy Name of Jesus Parish in Harrisburg.

Catholic School Experience

Ordained to the priesthood in 1978, Father Quinlan’s first administrative experience in Catholic schools came during his second assignment as an assistant priest at the Cathedral Parish of St. Patrick in Harrisburg, where he served at the Cathedral School.

Though he never particularly sought out ministry in Catholic education, his next assignment would take him to Holy Spirit School in Mount Carmel, a consolidated school for the Mount Carmel parishes. Father Quinlan was assigned as executive director there in 1984, and the school – which is now closed – had 350 students.

As his ministry would come to focus on Catholic education, Father Quinlan earned a master’s in administration through Marywood University in Scranton, Pa., and a state certification in administration. He went on to serve as principal of Delone Catholic High School in McSherrystown, and as assistant to the principal, and later principal, of Bishop McDevitt High School in Harrisburg.

He was pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Danville for several years before being named Associate Secretary for Education for the Diocese of Harrisburg in 1996, succeeding Msgr. Robert Lawrence as Secretary for Education in 1997.

“I found my prior experience in Catholic schools to be absolutely essential to my position as Secretary for Education,” Father Quinlan said. “You have to understand how a school operates, especially Catholic schools with limited staff and limited budgets. You have to understand how those parts fit together and actually work in a school.”

Three-Fold Focus

During his tenure as Secretary, Father Quinlan oversaw several departments, in addition to the Department for Catholic Schools. These included the Religious Education Department, the Office of Adult Education and Catechist Formation, and efforts in the Diocese’s Safe Environment Program.

A mainstay of his ministry, however, was on working to ensure that Diocesan schools cultivated their Catholic identity, offered an excellent education, and remained economically viable.

On Catholic mission and identity, Father Quinlan spoke of the joint effort of the Department of Catholic Schools, the Education Department of the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference and the bishops of Pennsylvania on a statewide mission and identity policy.

“It spells out why we do what we do, why we expect what we expect from teachers, staff and administrators, and why we have the programs we have in terms of formation of our young people in the faith,” he said.

On the quality education Catholic schools offer, Father Quinlan touted the elementary school curriculums for all subject areas established and maintained by committees of Catholic school educators; the Diocesan wide-area network that enables schools to connect and learn via video-conferencing; and standardized testing that allows parents and school administrators to measure student, curriculum and teacher performance.

“Our students continue to do very well at all levels,” Father Quinlan remarked. “As they graduate high school and go on to college, they do well there also. … We offer a structure and an environment conducive to their success. If you don’t have that kind of environment, you’re really cheating your kids. If you have good, reasonable expectations for students, they will rise to what you’re asking of them.”

Speaking about affordability of a Catholic school education, Father Quinlan lauded Pennsylvania’s Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) and Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit (OSTC) programs. The programs provide businesses with a tax credit for donating to a nonprofit scholarship organization or an educational improvement organization, such as the Diocese’s Neumann Scholarship Foundation, which provides tuition assistance for families.

“We are blessed in Pennsylvania to have the tax credit program,” said Father Quinlan.

This year, through business participation in the programs, $3.6 million in scholarship assistance is being provided to Catholic school students.

Father Quinlan expressed his gratitude for the faculty, staff and administration of Diocesan schools, and the staff of the Secretariat for Education for their efforts in ensuring quality Catholic education for students.

“The dedication of our people in Catholic schools and the formation programs we have for them have contributed to a healthy system, and one that is well supported at the Diocesan level by our staff, our Bishop, our finance office, and our Communications Department,” he said. “There is a whole, unified structure here that is supportive of the mission of Catholic schools.”

“I think we can be very proud of our schools, and very proud of the people who work in them. The overwhelming majority of our principals, teachers and staff are there because they love their job. They love the mission of education, and they love that they can do it in an environment that permits them to express their faith,” he said.

For more information about our Catholic Schools, visit https://www.hbgdiocese.org/catholic-schools/.

By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness