One Becomes Two: 1972-1977 Archbishop John R. Quinn

Archbishop John R. Quinn

A Church community is an organic thing. It begins in smallness, develops, changes outward appearances, has periods of rapid growth and seasons of near arrest. The Church community — always the same, always different — thus proceeds along the tricky, twisting road of time. On February 6, 1973, some 35,550 sunrises after Dom Isidore Robot and Brother Dominic Julius Lambert had first entered Indian Territory, the Catholic Church community in Oklahoma became two instead of one with the establishment of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City and the Diocese of Tulsa. It was a sign of maturation, a sign of hope that both shoots would flourish more fully as distinct centers of life than in combination.

John R. Quinn, Auxiliary Bishop of San Diego, first learned that he was to be appointed the next Bishop of Oklahoma City and Tulsa during the national meeting of U.S. bishops in November, 1971. He recalled that, sworn to secrecy about his appointment, he walked by a bookstore containing a National Geographic magazine story on Oklahoma. Because he was in the company of others who did not share his secret, Bishop Quinn passed by the store, but very reluctantly.

Oklahoma's fifth bishop, a native of California, arrived the middle of a howling winter storm. He was young (42), very bright, stood in high repute with his fellow bishops and was eager to get on with his work.

Bishop Quinn gave first priority to the priests of Oklahoma. In a series of meetings, he asked them to speak to him and he made careful note of what was said. He tackled the job of visiting his thinly spread people. Within his first two years the bishop had been in almost every Catholic church (parishes and missions) in the state.

The Catholics of Oklahoma found Bishop Quinn to be vigorous and decisive. Where Bishop Reed handled incoming mail with a certain casualness, Bishop Quinn ricocheted replies with amazing speed. As leader of the community of the Catholic Church in Oklahoma, Bishop Quinn tried to steer a difficult course with a combination of firmness and openness.

In early 1973, John R. Quinn became the first Archbishop of Oklahoma City. Moving cautiously but steadily, Archbishop Quinn revealed his priorities by his actions: emphasis on priestly vocations, desire for better pastoral care of Spanish-speaking Catholics, re-establishment of a Catholic newspaper, appointment of a full-time youth director, and a reorganization of Catholic charities. In 1974, Archbishop Quinn was personally appointed by Pope Paul VI to participate in the 1974 World Synod of Bishops.

Tulsa Gets a Bishop

Bishop Bernard Ganter

Over many years the Catholics of Tulsa had felt like an unappreciated junior partner. The generosity of Tulsans carried a great share of the financial burden of the Diocese of Oklahoma City and Tulsa, but when institutions were built they seemed to be always in Oklahoma City. The wealthy Catholics of Tulsa had been placated in the 1930s by inclusion of their city's name in the title of the diocese. But now in the 1970’s most of the Church in Tulsa desired their own bishop. In 1972, there were only three cities larger than Tulsa in the United States (Jacksonville, San Jose and Long Beach) which were not see cities with a resident bishop.

For Tulsa's first bishop. Pope Paul VI chose a Texan, Bernard Ganter, a 44-year-old priest of the Galveston-Houston Diocese. He was ordained bishop on February 7, 1973 and took possession of the Diocese of Tulsa on the same day. Bishop Ganter's ways — smiling, unassuming, folksy, warm — quickly won the hearts of the eastern Oklahoma Catholics. An alumnus of Texas A & M, he had the ability even to laugh genuinely at "Aggie" jokes told by people not knowing his background.

The area in which Bishop Ganter led his diocese was a curious complex of wealth and poverty, of cultural sophistication and a tendency to produce off-brand religious phenomenons, of a splendiferous city located near great stretches of unlettered hill people. The Diocese of Tulsa is considered one of the more significant home missionary areas remaining in the United States.

(Taken from One Family: One Century)