Annandale chief of church improvement to retire

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Larry Quinn was 7 years old when he first ran a buffer. Cleaning houses of God was a bit of a family business. Quinn and his family attended St. John the Beloved Church in McLean and his dad volunteered at the church. When Missionhurst Father Paul Cauwe left the parish to start Holy Spirit Church in Annandale, he asked Quinn’s father to come along. “My father was a government worker, but he took it on as a part time job,” said Quinn. “So I was around here a lot.”

During the summers, Quinn’s mom would drop him off at Holy Spirit to help the cleaning man his father hired. “That’s how I learned how to clean buildings,” said Quinn. In the winter, his dad would let him plow the snow in the parking lot while he made coffee inside. When his dad plowed, he was demoted to shoveling duty.

At age 25, Quinn took over his father's janitorial and property maintenance business. On-and-off since then, he and his crew have cleaned and cared for Holy Spirit, St. Ambrose Church in Annandale, St. Anthony of Padua Church in Falls Church, St. Bernadette Church in Springfield as well as Protestant churches and office buildings. Fifteen years ago, Quinn sold the business and began working as Holy Spirit’s facilities manager.

He describes his job as handling “anything and everything.” His office attests to that diversity of activity — scattered around the janitor’s closet-esque space are a computer and desk, piles of paper, extension cords, yellow caution tape, bottles of cleaning fluid and caulk.

During the school day, he and two other maintenance workers mop up spills and fix what’s broken. They oversee the school’s security measures. Quinn ensures the cleaning company and other contractors satisfactorily complete their tasks. When he can do it safely himself, he’ll see to the odd job, such as installing tiles or closets. He keeps the school, church and rectory safe, spick and span.

“I really care for the building,” said the 65-year-old handyman. “As I tell everybody, my floors would stay clean if I didn’t have kids in here. But Mrs. (Maureen) Ashby, the principal, tells me that without the kids I wouldn’t be needed,” he said with a laugh.

Quinn has cleaned up a lot of messes in his day. He remembers one night in his 20s when vandals broke windows and sprayed fire extinguishers throughout the school and church. They closed the school that Friday, said Quinn, and he and his men spent all day and night cleaning the church for Saturday evening Mass. “That white powder is almost impossible to get up,” he said.

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ZOEY MARAIST  |  CATHOLIC HERALD

 Another time, the director of religious education called the pastor to see if they should cancel classes during a snowstorm. Quinn already had cleared the parking lot, so when the priest looked out the window, it seemed safe to him. “He didn’t look out to a side street to see it was still 6 inches deep, and icy,” said Quinn. “Oh, (the religious education director) was mad at me.”

During a summer camp science experiment, one student caught his finger in a beaker. Quinn coaxed it out with a bit of Palmolive soap. But Quinn didn’t divulge many other tales of what’s gone wrong on his watch. “Kids are inventive. They might try it.” Suffice it to say, “it’s never boring,” he said.

Appropriately, Quinn and his wife, Cynthia, were married at Holy Spirit. They have two grown children: Patrick and Tyler. He’s found some similarities between childcare and building maintenance — both require a lot of attention and dedication. “The building is like your kid — you know when something’s out of order,” he said.

During long holidays, Quinn likes to stop by Holy Spirit to make sure everything’s running smoothly. Once, all the ovens were left on. Another time, burst pipes unleashed rivulets of water into the school hallway.

Due to his lengthy tenure, sometimes he sees problems coming. “My father took me around as they were building (Holy Spirit), and he showed me that as they were bricking up the building they’d cracked some of the pipes,” said Quinn. “He said, ‘This building’s going to leak.’ And lo and behold it did leak, and the company had to dig a trench all the way around and put a sump pump in that room.”

Quinn believes his years of experience are an asset to the parish priests who’d rather focus on their flock’s spiritual needs than the plant’s physical ones. He knows the wires and pipes that lie hidden beneath the drywall as well as the priests know the Mass.

Quinn’s institutional memory is valuable, especially when new pastors arrive. It always takes them a few months to figure everything out, including the presence of a small cemetery that predates the church. “They’d come up and say, ‘Larry, is there a graveyard somewhere around here? Why didn’t you tell me that?’ I’d say, ‘You never asked,’ ” Quinn said.

Cleaning different churches, including the Baptist church near Holy Spirit, has allowed Quinn to witness other faiths, but he’s glad he remained a Catholic. “I could've easily changed but this one always seemed to be right. I always settled back here,” he said. “I like the Catholic community.”

By all accounts, it seems the community at Holy Spirit will miss him when he and his wife move to Winchester next year. In honor of his retirement, a large poster of his head is displayed in the copy room. As he walks down the school hallway, one teacher said to her students, “What should we ask for today, guys?”

“A pool,” the kids implore as Quinn passes through. Maybe they’ll have better luck with the new guy. 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2018

@ZoeyMaraistACH