Quinn (O'Quinn), James (1819–81), educator and first catholic bishop of Queensland, Australia, was born 17 March 1819 in Rathbawn, Co. Kildare, son of Matthew Quinn and Mary Quinn (née Doyle). He was educated at Kelly's School, Dublin. On 24 August 1836 he entered the Irish College, Rome, then under the rectorship of Paul Cullen (qv), to whom, according to Charles Gavan Duffy (qv), Quinn was related (Kerr, 91). Although of delicate health, he was an outstanding scholar and won a gold medal when awarded a doctorate in theology in 1845. After his ordination (15 August 1846), he returned to Ireland and was appointed to temporary duty at a parish in Blackrock, Co. Dublin, where he worked during a cholera epidemic.
Quinn was very interested in catholic education and resurrected the school of his uncle, Fr John Doyle, as the Connexional Seminary of St Laurence O'Toole. In 1850 he founded and was president of St Laurence O'Toole's Seminary and Catholic Day School, a private catholic school at 16/17 Harcourt St., Dublin, which was popularly known as ‘Dr Quinn's school’ and served as a feeder to the Catholic University, which opened in November 1854. Lecturers worked at both schools. His Harcourt St. school was regarded as the best catholic lay school of its time in Ireland, with many pupils who subsequently became prominent, such as William Walsh (qv), later archbishop of Dublin. John Henry Newman (qv) resided at the school periodically during 1852–4.
Quinn was appointed first bishop of Brisbane, a diocese that encompassed the whole of Queensland, on 14 April 1859. He recruited priests and nuns from the Continent and arrived in Brisbane on 12 March 1861. He was an energetic and zealous leader, and one who forwarded the cause of Irish catholics in his jurisdiction. In 1862 he founded the Queensland Immigration Society, which facilitated the immigration of several thousand people, mainly Irish, on ten ships. This influx aroused an anti-Irish hostility fuelled by Quinn's own casual remark that the colony might yet be called ‘Quinn's land’, and the society was dissolved in 1865.
In his episcopal role Quinn was renowned for his authoritarian manner, which quickly caused dissent among his clergy and other religious in Queensland. In 1862, soon after his arrival, he became embroiled in a power struggle with Fr McGinty, a priest in Queensland since 1843, and invoked his episcopal authority to restrain McGinty. In 1867 six priests left the diocese without Quinn's permission, accusing Quinn of enforcing regulations too rigidly. Quinn had also invited the Sisters of Mercy, to whom he had acted as spiritual adviser and confessor, over from Dublin in 1861. Problems occurred when he replaced their Irish-appointed superior with one of his own choosing, and the sisters attempted to return to Ireland but were prevented by Quinn. Their counterparts from Callan, Co. Kilkenny, came in 1871, responding to Quinn's request because their local parish priest was Quinn's brother. However, when Quinn was on a recruiting campaign to Ireland in 1870, his reputation preceded him and he was unable to convince any Irish priests to come to Queensland. Instead he recruited priests from France, Italy, and Germany. During this visit Quinn's attempts to assume leadership of the church synod in 1870 rankled with the other bishops.
Although within his church Quinn's authoritarianism was abrasive and unpopular, within the Queensland community he embraced ecumenism and would not tolerate bigotry. Overall, his impact on the catholic church in Queensland was immense. When he arrived there were two priests, 7,000 catholics, four schools, and four churches; ten years later there were thirty priests, 30,000 catholics, twenty-eight schools, and thirty churches. After the centenary celebrations in honour of Daniel O'Connell (qv) in 1875, Quinn, in a burst of patriotism, began to call himself ‘O'Quinn’ and it is by this name he was known, and was registered, when he died in Brisbane on 18 August 1881.