SKOWHEGAN — When Jeff Quinn began playing the organ at the Notre Dame de Lourdes Church in 1969, the job was only temporary and he was only going to do it through the winter season.

When the person that was supposed to take Quinn’s place after the season decided not to return, Quinn was asked to stay. At 18, he was attending his first year at the University of Maine during the week and catching rides home on the weekends to play at three different services: one on Saturday evening and two on Sunday, followed by a Sunday-evening rehearsal.

Pianist and organist Jeff Quinn has served the Notre Dame de Lourdes Catholic Church in Skowhegan for 50 years. On Saturday, in a simple celebration, he will be recognized for his devotion to his vocation. Morning Sentinel photo by Rich Abrahamson

At the time, Quinn had it in his mind that he would do this for 50 years, if he could get to that milestone. Now, in 2019, it’s here, and Quinn, the church’s music director, has no intention to stop anytime soon.

“You’ve gotta have a milestone,” he said. “And I enjoy what I’m doing, so it doesn’t feel like work.”

Quinn grew up in Cornville and attended Notre Dame de Lourdes as a boy. He learned to play the piano at the age of 7 and was the first one in his family to take on an instrument. He could play the piano well, but he did not have the technical knowledge and theory, which deterred him from pursuing a musical degree later on.

In a press release from the Catholic Diocese of Portland, Quinn said, “My first Masses were fraught with nervousness.” He didn’t know any choir members and had not participated in choir at all, but parish member Ernestine Pooler helped him out with the organ and music. He started out playing an old Wurlitzer organ and as time went on the equipment got better and the place of music in the liturgy increased.

Playing the organ and piano at the church was his first paying job, and it allowed him to save up and buy a new yellow Plymouth Duster, which gave him the freedom to travel home from Orono and back to campus as he pleased on the weekends.

“I don’t feel like I missed out on (the) college (experience),” he said. “I don’t regret my choices at all.”

During his final year at UMaine, Quinn, who studied elementary education, was student-teaching sixth grade in Cornville. He was introduced to directing theater then and continued directing shows at Cornville Town Hall for a decade before being asked to do a few shows at Lakewood Theater in 1985.

After college Quinn struggled to find a teaching job. He was offered a position in Ashland, but did not accept the position because Aroostook County was too far away from the church and his family to justify the move.

Quinn then worked at his father’s shop, Quinn’s Hardware, during the week and played at the church on weekends.

After 15 years at the hardware store, Quinn decided to move on as the business relationship with his brother became more and more tense.

“We fought like cats and dogs,” he said. “We got along well at family events and holidays, so I left to save our relationship.”

Quinn’s wife, Susan, decided to go back to teaching, and he stayed home with their children, Katie and Matthew.

During those years his playing at church progressed from a four-hymn pattern to encompass other parts of the Mass including psalms and the challenge of getting congregations unaccustomed to singing to sing more. In the early 1980s he welcomed the piano as an instrument he could play in church.

As a child, his family visited Lakewood Theater in Madison often and it was his dream from a young age to play music from the restaurant’s deck. At the age of 15, he, along with five other classmates from Skowhegan Area High School, played there in 1966.

Pianist and organist Jeff Quinn has served the Notre Dame de Lourdes Catholic Church in Skowhegan for 50 years. He is pictured with the organ at the church Tuesday. Morning Sentinel photo by Rich Abrahamson

“I had died and gone to heaven,” he said. But on that score, there was more ahead.

In the mid-1980s his love of music extended beyond the walls of the church, according to the release. Lakewood Theater, the oldest summer theater in the country, had closed in 1984, but Quinn’s business partner at the time asked if the theater would consider bringing in a local group to perform. Quinn and his wife now own the theater and he has served as artistic director there for 35 years.

Teaching music and theater part-time is something that Quinn reflects on often. He currently directs seven of the nine shows that the theater puts on every summer as well as small shows for children from local schools. Running Lakewood has become a family affair, as his children spent their summers there. His daughter Katherine manages the restaurant and his son, Matthew, was the technical director for many years.

“What we do is insane,” he said. “(Working with the kids) is one of my favorite things. They are so earnest, and they get so into it.”

While Lakewood Theater is closed for the season, Quinn is spending his time at home as well as playing for funerals. When asked about retiring, he is unsure of when he will be done. And his role as music director at the church continues. Of this vocation, he says in the press release, “You must be called to do it. No one gets rich over it.”

On Tuesday he said, “For the most part, I do still get joy from playing. When I lose that joy, I’ll be leaving the job.”

On Oct. 5, following the 4 p.m., Mass at Notre Dame de Lourdes Church, Quinn will be recognized for his five decades as music director.

Father James Nadeau, pastor of Christ the King Parish of which Notre Dame de Lourdes is a part, said in the release, “Psalm 149 tells us to ‘Sing to the Lord a new song, a hymn in the assembly of the faithful.’ Jeff Quinn has been doing this at Notre Dame de Lourdes for the past fifty years. He has been part of the liturgical renewal over the last five decades from Gregorian chant and folk groups to our current musical repertoire. He has been conductor of the orchestra. We are truly grateful.”

As for Quinn, he said, “I cannot imagine not doing something expressive or creative (as a career). It sounds selfish, but you do it for you. I feel very satisfied by the work that I do.”


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