Fr James Quinn SJ 1919-2010
Fr James Quinn SJ 1919-2010

James Quinn SJ

James Quinn SJ was born in Glasgow in 1919 and educated at St Aloysius College, before studying Classics at Glasgow University.  He entered the novitiate in 1939 and was ordained in 1950.  He taught classics at Preston College and Wimbledon College.  He moved back to Scotland in 1955 and remained in ministry there until his death in 2010, apart from a four year secondment as spiritual father of Beda College in Rome.  Fr Quinn was especially known for promoting ecumenism following the Second Vatican Council. After many prestigious appointments he was appointed Episcopal Vicar for Ecumenism in the Archdiocese of Edinburgh by Cardinal Keith O’Brien in 1987. In the 1960s Fr Quinn was active in the cause for the canonisation of St John Ogilvie SJ, who became Scotland’s only post-reformation and only Jesuit saint in 1976.

Fr Quinn remains best known for the many hymns he wrote as part of his mission to make the theology of Vatican II accessible (and singable) to ordinary people. Not a musical man himself, he would set lyrics to familiar existing tunes by fitting words to the number of beats in the line.  His hymns have stood the test of time.  Many were paraphrases of the psalms and scriptures and translations of Latin Marian prayers.  They can be found in all Catholic hymn books of the last 40 years, and are widely used in the hymnals of other denominations.  They include many favourites such as “Christ be beside me”, “Forth in the peace of Christ we go” and “The bread that we break”.