Francis Quinn, Bishop Emeritus of Sacramento's Roman Catholic Diocese and arguably the capital's most consequential spiritual leader of the last half century, is reflecting on his life as the end nears.
Quinn has reached the age of 96 and that he has lived this long has surprised him, especially considering he has been receiving hospice care since December. The average stay is 67 days, according to the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization.
As Easter dawns, Quinn is approaching 100 days. He continues to say Mass at the East Sacramento assisted living facility where he moved to live his final years. He still attends every funeral of every person he has loved, who loved him and worked with him as he transcended his priestly collar to become more than a religious leader to the people who know him.
"He was known as the pastor of the pastors," said Monsignor James Murphy, who worked with Quinn for years. "He's so vibrant and when you see him, even now, he's famous for remembering everyone's name. He just connects with people."
From 1980 to 1994, Quinn was the bishop in Sacramento, leading the diocese that serves 1 million Catholics in 20 counties from Vallejo to the Oregon border. He was known for his humanity, and he still resonates in his adopted hometown more than 20 years later. In the twilight of his life, when he prays daily for his Lord to take him to heaven, Quinn believes that only now – in his final days – he understands the essence of life and happiness.
On a recent day, as he sat in his wheelchair in his cozy apartment, a handful of visitors leaned in as Quinn spoke of the secret to happiness in life.
It turns out, it's not really a secret.
"I love everybody," Quinn said. "I love Protestants. I love Muslims. I love atheists. Everybody."
A faithful San Francisco Giants fan, Quinn flashed a boyish smile. " I even love the Los Angeles Dodgers," he said.
What about President Donald Trump, whose policies have targeted undocumented immigrants, a group Quinn has championed since his earliest days as Sacramento's bishop?
"I love President Trump too," Quinn said. "But I think he needs a dog."
Quinn said when he was younger, he was susceptible to the "selfish" impulses that consume our everyday lives. The harder he worked, and the more he pushed his initiatives, the easier he forgot what was important.
His job as bishop was daunting and time-consuming, and he was susceptible to the pressures and frustrations that cause all to be at less than our best. "I remember flying up to Redding and looking down at the open fields and thinking, 'My God. I'm responsible for these people spiritually," he said. "When you become a bishop you trade imaginary problems for real ones."
Those who love Quinn see him as a force for good in Sacramento. He was and is. But Quinn is clear-eyed about his life at this stage. He knows: Priests under his leadership were accused of molesting children and fled prosecution to Mexico. He knows. He's honest with himself and and others about that dark period for the Catholic Church.
"We handled it badly," Quinn said. His sentence here is simple and deeper than it sounds. The "we" is the U.S. Conference of Bishops and the "badly" is how it behaved at the outset of the sex abuse scandal that rocked the church in the early 2000s.
Quinn explained. "We as bishops were so focused on the priests and this terrible mortal sin they had committed that we didn't want the people to know this," he said. "We didn't want the people to be scandalized."
And admitted. "Objectively we were wrong."
And declared. "We need to pray for forgiveness."
Where Quinn finds the most fault with himself was his failure to consider the victims.
"I did not focus on what was happening to the kids," he said. "And that was our big mistake."
Quinn said people pulling away from he church pained him and other church leaders. "They sort of knocked us off our pedestals," he said. " … But it probably helps us. It's good for us. It brings clergy down to just being men. "
That's who Quinn is now in his dying days – a man who loves God and loves people and is honest about the times he was distracted from the teachings – to love people – he has preached his entire life.
So now he does, unconditionally. He looks back on his time as bishop with great joy.
Those who remember Quinn know he was a dynamo in his day. He developed lay ministries that brought people into the process of preaching to those who needed it. He reached out to faith leaders in other denominations. He championed the poor and could be seen serving meals to the homeless, sleeping outdoors at night to draw attention to their plight.
"He was always on the front page of The Bee," Murphy said. "He was a local celebrity the way Pope John Paull II was worldwide at the same time."
Quinn loved that time in his life. He looks back fondly on his years as a young priest in San Francisco, coaching the freshman football team at Junipero Serra High School in the Bay Area. "Tom Brady ( the famed New England Patriots quarterback) played on that team 35 years after me, so clearly he learned everything he knows from me," Quinn said.
But one of his revelations is that it is now, and not when he was younger, he has found the most joy. American culture may celebrate youth, but Quinn has reached his "Camelot" days between the ages of 86 and 96. He is surrounded by people who love him and care for him. He prays and preaches. He enjoys pasta with pesto. He thanks God every morning when he opens his eyes and realizes he is still here for another day.
Quinn entered the seminary at 13. He believes that if he had gone to public school instead of parochial school as a child, he would have fallen in love with someone and had a family. Instead, he dedicated his life to God.
"There have been times when I missed having a wife and children." Quinn said. "But it's never overshadowed what I have chosen, even though when I made the choice I didn't know what I was doing."
Today, Quinn favors allowing priests to marry. He favors female priests. He favors a church that loves people unconditionally and doesn't stray from that mission.
How much longer Quinn will live, no one can say. He expects to die any day. But in the time he has left, he is going to love people and people will love him. His life has proved that nothing is more important.