By Ralph E. Moore Jr.
Vincent P. Quayle helped scores of Black people get decent, affordable homes in Baltimore.
Quayle and I met by chance standing in front of St. Frances Academy decades ago. He was a Jesuit priest, dressed in Black, as they do.
We said “hello,” not knowing he would one day be my boss at St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center or that he would assign me to work in Johnston Square (the St. Frances neighborhood) as a pre-purchase counselor.
The Oblate Sisters of Providence, who sponsor the school, asked Quayle for housing assistance in their neighborhood just as I came to the housing assistance agency. I thought I’d be working in the office on 25th Street teaching people how to buy a house and advising them on what they could afford. Little did I know, he’d be assigning me to one of the toughest neighborhoods in Baltimore. The median household income in the area in 1978 was $4,400 and street crime was rampant then. Johnston Square in East Baltimore would become my all-time favorite place to work. The neighborhood and its people became very dear to me. It was Quayle whom I had to thank for my wonderful work experience.
Quayle was a native New Yorker, who was born in 1939 to working parents, Clarence and Kathleen (McGoldrick) Quayle. He went to private school, Brooklyn Preparatory High School, then Villanova University for undergraduate studies before entering a series of Jesuit seminaries: St. Andrew’s Novitiate, the Loyola Seminary in New York,and Woodstock College in Baltimore County. He was ordained a priest in 1970.
Baltimore City was very different back then: there had never been a Black mayor and only a very few African Americans had ever served on the City Council. The real estate industry was racially prejudiced in most segments of the business stealing from both sellers and buyers. White sellers were scared into selling their homes at prices lower than the market value fled the city (because the Blacks were coming! Sell fast and run!). Many Black families, anxious to become homeowners, were unaware of the homebuying process and paid inflated prices for their homes.
In the middle of transactions between White sellers and Black buyers were manipulative realtors who built their fortunes based on White supremacy. Incidentally, in those days the real estate business was itself racially segregated with White agents and brokers called ‘realtors’ and Blacks were labeled ‘realtists.’ There were too few Black agents to meet the burgeoning demand for home ownership in the Black community, so Quayle created St. Ambrose Housing to help.
He did the three most stressful things one can do at the same time: he started a new job (director of St. Ambrose Housing), he moved into Charles Village (Abell Avenue) and he found and married the love of his life (his beautiful bride as he affectionately called her—Pat Connolly). They had three sons: Tom, Matt and Dan, who were all the pride of the family.
St. Ambrose Housing grew over the years starting with a small staff of counselors on home buying, then default and delinquency counselors for those falling behind on mortgage payments, legal services, home rehab loan advisers, a home sharing program and incubating assistance for others wanting to start an independent housing assistance non-profit.
Quayle and his co-founder and primary co-administrator, George Bur, a Jesuit priest, hired ex-Jesuits (Joe Delclos and Frank P. Fischer), neighborhood folks (Shirley Rivers and Anna Davis), service corps volunteers each year, several Black alumni from Loyola High School and lawyers (with too many names of the varied staff members to mention). The staff, which peaked at about 50, was composed of talented, hard-working, innovative and very caring individuals. They were considered one of the best teams in the nation for creativity and effectiveness. In some ways the staff quality was a testament to Quayle’s charisma and his commitment to putting good people to work helping others.
One such ex-staffer, Brendan Walsh (co-founder in 1968 of the Catholic Worker House—Viva House– with his lovely wife, Willa Bickham) recently described what SAHAC meant to him.
“First, prior to my working with Quayle and the St. Ambrose staff, I never seriously considered the importance– even the necessity– of home ownership for the low-income working poor. I quickly learned that homeownership was fundamental for lasting security and stable living,” said Walsh. “I learned how banks operate, what flipping means, and why some neighborhoods flourish and others go down the drain. I always looked upon St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center as a community of folks dedicated to ‘making the odds a bit more even.’”
Walsh said during his time on the staff, he began to “understand how neighborhoods are manipulated for profits and, often, for the exclusion of citizens.”
Harold and Shirley Milledge, an African American couple, bought a house in the Hoes Heights neighborhood situated between Roland Park and Hampden.
“In 1986, my husband, Harold, and I were looking to buy our first home. We were sent to St. Ambrose by a good friend, and they put us in touch with someone on staff who helped us to look for things the seller should fix. Michael Guye, a pre-purchase counselor, helped us to get the asking price lowered. We have lived happily in this house for 37 years,” said Shirley.
It was Quayle’s vision to help Black people have the same opportunity as Whites to acquire a decent, affordable house to call their own.
Centuries ago, in Athens, Greece the question was posed “When shall we have justice in this city?” And the answer that came back, “We shall have justice when those who are not injured are just as indignant as those who are.”
Quayle was the man indignant enough to create a vehicle for racial change and economic justice and with it he helped a whole lot of people. He passed away on March 27 at the age of 83.
On behalf of the working poor in Baltimore, thank you, Qualye.
This article was originally published by Black Catholic Messenger.