National Catholic Register

Culture of Life

Innovative Intervention

Father Quinn Mann takes his evangelism show on the road in his amazing Paschal Mystery Machine — a jaw-dropping van that Catholicizes the vehicle Scooby Doo and his pals tooled around in. By Joy Wambeke.

BY JOY WAMBEKE

October 22-28, 2006 Issue | Posted 10/19/06 at 10:00 AM

 

It was while on retreat near Door County, Wis., some years ago that Luke Strand first met Father Quinn Mann. Strand had been thinking about a possible vocation to the priesthood but felt unclear about where God was leading him.

He remembers the day like it just happened.

“Father Mann jumped into one of the boats carrying a huge statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary,” recalls Strand. “I said to myself, ‘Who is this guy?’”

Struck by Father Mann’s zeal and joy, Luke approached the priest later that evening to talk about his vocation. They spoke sitting close to the Blessed Sacrament. By the end of the evening, Strand had little doubt that God was leading him to enter seminary. (He’s on track now for ordination in 2009.)

Talk to the parishioners of St. Francis Xavier Cathedral and the Church of Sts. Peter and Paul, both in Green Bay, Wis., and you’ll hear many such stories about Father Quinn Mann and how he has stood out in people’s lives in the time since he was ordained last spring.

But then it would be hard not to notice a priest who tools around town in a black VW Beetle with a Roman collar painted on the front.

To many, Father Mann is a breath of fresh air. But Father Mann sees himself as simply responding to what Christ has asked him to do: Live the Eucharist and be Christ to others.

Of course, things weren’t always this way. Upon graduating from college, young Quinn Mann found himself an unanchored Catholic. His friends, including his steady girlfriend, were evangelical Protestants. He was considering leaving the Church altogether when he attended a retreat sponsored by a national Protestant youth organization.

At the retreat, the leaders challenged the group to “be accountable for” their sins. They went around the room, asking participants one by one if they’d ever held themselves accountable. With that exercise, a little light bulb came on in Quinn Mann’s mind.

“I thought to myself, ‘I’ve been accountable for my sins my whole life,’” he recalls, “in the sacrament of reconciliation.”

He began to reconsider the truth found in the Catholic Church. He attended a Teens Encounter Christ retreat where, as he knelt before the Blessed Sacrament, his heart “began to burn with desire for Christ in the Eucharist.” His desire to discern a possible calling to the priesthood came to the fore. And he was overtaken with a hunger to bring Christ in the Eucharist to the world.

Father Mann was still a seminarian when the idea of the Paschal Mystery Machine came to him.

He was walking out of Mass and saw a dilapidated old van parked in front of the church. Recalling the cartoon Scooby Doo Where Are You, in which the characters drove around in a van called “The Mystery Machine,” Father Mann chuckled, “Hey, it’s the Paschal Mystery Machine!”

“John Paul the Great said to not be afraid to find new and innovative ways” to bring Jesus to people where they are, Father Mann explains. “And suddenly it came to me: This is the Paschal Mystery Machine.”

With the funds he was able to raise, and donated help from a tailor and a craftsman, Father Quinn fashioned an old beater into a van that looks every bit the “Mystery Machine” found in the children’s cartoon — except for the Catholic touches such as the Latin phrase Duc in Altum (Put out into the deep) and vanity plates that read, “Paschal.” Of course.

The Paschal Mystery Machine is now used to transport kids back and forth to retreats, and on Father Mann’s apostolates. Plus Father Mann uses the jaw-dropping vehicle to distribute scapulars, prayer booklets and tracts at Catholic events.

It’s also a conversation starter, even with perfect strangers. Luke Strand remembers one night in particular. “We were in Madison, Wis., at a stop light, when all of a sudden this group of college students just jumped right into the van,” recalls Strand. “Father Mann didn’t miss a beat. He saw it as a providential moment and started to tell them about God’s love.”

To some, this pastoral approach may appear to be over the top. Father Mann responds by pointing to a passage from the Second Vatican Council’s 1965 document Gaudium et Spes (The Church in the Modern World): “Man, who is the only creature on earth which God willed for itself, cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself.”

Clearly, it is this “sincere gift” that Father Mann strives to be.

Father Marti Carr, founder and director of a men’s shelter in Oshkosh, Wis., thinks back to the first day Father Mann came to work at the shelter.

“His love for the Eucharist was evident from the start,” Father Carr says. “His great compassion and willingness to suffer for others came through on his first day here. He jumped right into the work without worrying about getting dirty and worked side by side with the men here who are searching. He listened as Jesus listened, and washed their feet.”

Last year, Father Carr found himself in the position of being served by Father Mann. “I had a heart attack, and Father Mann came to the hospital to celebrate Mass with me and stay with me through the surgery and throughout my stay,” says Father Carr. “He was with me in the tough times because he knows what it is to serve.”

Jenny Johns, a staff member of Father Mann’s Catholic Youth Expeditions (cyexpeditions.org), has been similarly inspired by the young priest’s generosity of spirit.

“Someone gave CYE a motor boat, and Father Quinn was the only one who was licensed to drive it,” she says. “He made sure he was at every retreat so that all the kids got a chance to try skiing. When he took them out, instead of just telling them how to ski, he would jump into the icy waters of Lake Superior, every time, to show them. In this way, he taught me how to be a self-gift for others, how to give more than what the world asks us to give.”

These days, Father Mann spends much of his time working as parish priest at his two parish assignments. Chris Gustafson, a parishioner at St. Francis Xavier, recalls a recent Sunday when Father Mann couldn’t contain his joy of a new member of Christ’s body.

“There was a baptism that Mass,” Chris explains, smiling. “And after he baptized the infant, he paraded her up and down the aisles, holding her up and making her tiny hand wave at all the parishioners.”

Some of this sounds more like fun than duty. So why did you really become a priest, Father Mann?

“The Eucharist,” he responds, “and the Eucharist and the Eucharist.”

Joy Wambeke writes from

St. Paul, Minnesota.