Sometimes, it is hard to understand how one person can accomplish so much.
Marilyn Quirk, a mother of six, grandmother of 13 and founder of the Magnificat, a Ministry to Catholic Women, doesn’t understand it herself, but credits the Holy Spirit as the guiding hand in her spiritual life.
For her active involvement in the women’s faith group Magnifcat for more than 30 years, Quirk was named the 2016 St. John Paul II Award recipient by the Catholic Foundation.
“I was so shocked when they called me,” Quirk said about the Catholic Foundation’s telephone call, asking her to visit Archbishop Gregory Aymond.
“I thought it was something regarding Magnificat that the archbishop wanted to see me about,” she said. “They didn’t tell Pete (her husband of 43 years) anything, and he went with me. When we got there, I saw Steve Hubbell and Charlie Heim, and they brought me into the room and told me. I was absolutely stunned. I thought it was Pete and even asked, ‘It’s not Pete?’ and they said, ‘No, it’s you.’”
She said she was hesitant to accept it at first, but decided to accept in the name of the pope after whom it is named – St. John Paul II.
“His teachings have been transformative in my life and the life of the Catholic Church,” she said, adding his letter about the dignity and vocation of women, furthering St. Paul’s cry to be a missionary church, and the Theology of the Body most impacted her. “That’s how I was able to embrace it.”
Holy Spirit flames at work
As a busy mom and volunteer at St. Angela Merici as president of the women’s group SALA, a eucharistic minister, lector and CCD teacher in the 1960s, Quirk said she saw her spiritual side waning. She attended Mass, knew God the Father and Jesus the Son, but hadn’t yet met the Holy Spirit.
“The riches of life were choking off my religious fervor,” she said.
She finally answered an invitation of friend and neighbor Puddin’ McNamara to attend prayer meetings with Jesuit Father Harold Cohen at Loyola University New Orleans.
“I had a conviction of how far away I had turned from God,” Quirk said.” But God is rich in mercy. Because of his great love, he ran after me and brought me back.”
She said her life and that of her family quickly reshaped after attending Father Cohen’s charismatic prayer meetings.
“My life changed when I received the baptism of the Spirit and a new energy and knowledge of God. … I kept wanting to pray, reading Scripture and going to daily Mass,” she said. “When a woman’s heart is changed, it impacts everything else.”
Female prayer friends sought to share their faith further and began meeting at Marilyn’s house for a casual meal and faith discussion. What began with eight to 12 people grew to 30 and sometimes as many as 70 people inside her small Metairie home. From there, 40 prayer meetings formed in the Metairie area.
“So much had been happening in our lives, we wanted to share,” she said about the local women growing in faith.
Auxiliary Bishop Stanley Ott – whom she had met as an LSU student studying to be a medical missionary and with whom she studied to convert from Episcopalian to Catholic to marry Peter Quirk – suggested she establish a Catholic women’s faith group in a relaxed social setting similar to Women’s Aglow.
When her sixth child was 2 years old, Quirk acted and with a few others started what is now Magnificat. Her charismatic prayer group friend Patti Mansfield suggested the name “Magnificat.” And, Bishop Ott suggested holding the first prayer breakfast in dedication to Mary, the Mother of God, on the Feast of the Holy Rosary, Oct. 7, 1981. She believes it is something God wanted for women.
“Through a lot of graces, it became a private association of the Christian faithful, a canonical organization, with statutes in accordance to canon law. That allowed it to grow,” Quirk said. “You say ‘yes’ as the Lord did, and he will take care of it. … God can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.”
She said Magnificat has amazingly grown to more than 100 chapters in 11 countries.
“The women are so inspiring. When you gather with other women, you glean from them, you grow from them,” she said. “My life has been so enriched by knowing so many women whose lives have been impacted by the grace of God.”
She still calls Magnificat a group of ordinary Catholic women that grew because of their hunger to share their faith and their God-given gifts with each other.
Quirk especially felt the power of Magnificat prayers in 2010, when needed the most, after suffering cardiac arrest.
“It was a miracle I came back. It was through their prayers. These kinds of things we see happening more and more.”
Magnificat’s mission, from the start, has been evangelization – even though the women didn’t know that’s what they were doing – through prayer, sharing a meal and hearing fellow women’s testimonies at each gathering.
“Paul VI wrote an encyclical on evangelization,” Quirk said. “We didn’t know what that was.”
“It was just incredible the way the grace of God allowed us to put together a structure and gave us gifts that allowed it to grow, step by step,” Quirk said. In addition to local meetings, there’s an international leaders’ conference every other year. “It’s a sisterhood of friendships that have formed all over the world,” she said.
Quirk stepped down as Magnificat coordinator in 2013 but remains active. She will receive her recognition as being an “inspirational example of Christian stewardship” Dec. 1, at the annual Catholic Foundation dinner at the Hilton New Orleans Riverside. Call 596-3045.