2017-07-06 / Faith Community

St. John’s Honors Founder Quire

By James Merolla

Free is the operative word on Sunday, July 9, at St. John the Evangelist Church. A free concert and service will be held to honor Peter Quire, a free black man who freed the hearts of residents of the point nearly 150 years ago, and who left a bequest of $419, his life savings, to found the Free Chapel at the church at the turn of the 20th century.

Quire’s contributions to the cities of Philadelphia and Newport are hard to quantify. He worked with the Quakers on the Underground Railroad in Philadelphia, freeing slaves and their supporters, prior to moving Newport, where he and his Newport-born bride, Harriet, became stalwart members of the African-American community.

The first services of the St. John’s Parish were held in a room above his cobbler’s workshop. Quire was a member of the Vestry of St. John’s for many years, and upon his death in 1901, he became the church’s first benefactor.

“St. John’s was, from the very beginning, racially and economically mixed, and that remains true to this day,” Rev. Nathan Humphrey said. “I am honored to serve in a congregation where millionaires and those living on the poverty line don’t simply rub shoulders at coffee hour, but bear each other’s burdens and share each other’s joys.”

A High Mass celebrating the founding of “The Free Chapel of Saint John the Evangelist” by Quire will be held on Sunday, July 9 at 10 a.m., at The Zabriskie Memorial Church of Saint John the Evangelist, at Washington and Willow streets.

Humphrey will be the preacher, and Rev. Martin Yost, SSC, newly-arrived priest-in-residence, will be the celebrant.

The service features the Professional Choristers of The Choir School of Newport County (two dozen professionally-trained children from St. John’s and St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church) and the St. John’s adult choir, under the direction of Peter Berton.

Included are Mozart’s “Veni Sancte Spiritus” and Paul Halley’s “Freedom Trilogy,” a celebratory anthem fusing jazz rhythms, gospel, and world music with Gregorian chant.

“I’m really looking forward to this special music, like nothing St. John’s has ever had before the Choir School came along,” Humphrey said.

The first church service was held on July 11, 1875 at the Quire house on the northeast corner of Third and Poplar streets. (The house was destroyed by fire many years later). By October, the congregation had raised enough money to build its first church at 61 Poplar St., which now houses St. John the Evangelist administrative offices and serves as the Guild Hall, a popular venue for receptions, birthday parties, exercise classes and concerts.

The current site of the church was donated by Sarah Titus Zabriskie in memory of her mother Sarah Jane Zabriskie, and was consecrated by the Bishop of Rhode Island in 1894.

“I like to think that we are being faithful to Peter Quire’s legacy: Worshipping God in the beauty of holiness and reaching out to our neighbors, especially those in the Point and north of Van Zandt,” Humphrey said.

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