For a brief time, in the early 1990’s, I had the privilege of knowing Fr. Franck Quoex and being counted among his many friends. We met at the “Angelicum” University (Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in the City) in 1995 when we both began work on the Theology License in the so-called Thomistic Section. It was understood in those days—before anything like a traditional Catholic revival had even begun—that the only course of studies deserving of the name “Thomist” was to be found in this Section. Naturally, Don Quoex (as we always called him) sought out the true Thomistic scholars (the few that remained at that point), as did I, and we found ourselves in almost all the same classes and seminars. It seemed clear that he revered the doctrine of the Angelic Doctor and its fine academic tradition in Rome, most notably in the Scuola Romana of the Lateran University and at the Angelicum of Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange, O. P.
Don Quoex was quiet and attentive in the classes of the Dominicans of the “old school,” such as Fr. Benoit Duroux, O. P., and Fr. Vittorio Lagoutaine, O. P. (r.i.p.), those professors in other words who were deeply imbued with a knowledge of the Common Doctor and a true love for the Catholic intellectual life. And of course Don Quoex himself proved to be no mean Thomist in exploring the Saint’s understanding of the sacred liturgy. At the same time, he was prepared to question some of those younger, less reliable instructors, or even professors, whose courses or seminars were unavoidable even in the Thomistic Section. During one such seminar, the young lady leading it (a kind of adjunct professor), who was very much of an historicist bent, gently reproved our little group of die-hard Thomists saying, in so many words, that we shouldn’t equate him with the Magisterium or dogma. Don Quoex joined the others in correcting this inadequate assertion, citing the papal magisterium, the Council of Florence, and so forth. But, as always, he did so without acrimony or unpleasantness, and in fact he remained in the good graces of this particular professor. (During her course on scholastic history, when she for some reason showed us the first-known illustration of eyeglasses—a Dominican friar was wearing them—and mentioned playfully that the bespectacled Dominican looked like Don Quoex, he laughingly agreed.)
We consoled each other about the abysmal state of the Angelicum in general, in those days more or less overrun with the “Polish mafia,” who rode in on the train of John Paul II. The Rector Magnificus himself was a Pole, and his seminar—what little I can remember of it—was pedestrian in the extreme, memorable mainly for the vapid exchanges between the Rector and his favorite, a particularly dense Polish seminarian. “Abyssus abyssum invocat,” I once remarked after an especially cloying episode between the two Poles; Don Quoex, typically, laughed and signaled me to be discreet at the same time, like the gentleman he was.
He was always very correct in appearance, his hair neatly brillantined and combed down, a pair of old-fashioned spectacles (remarkable in those days) gracing his refined features, and wearing as much of the traditional vesture of Roman clergy as one could get away with in the 1990’s: the soutane, the greca (long, double-breasted black coat), and shoes with buckles on them, although not proper buckle-shoes (which he only wore for Mass or in choir). No one, sadly, could wear the capello Romano with impunity back then, and Don Quoex was prudent enough to understand that the gain did not outweigh the backlash in those pre-Summorum Pontificum times.
Don Quoex, though, was perhaps most memorable for his love and celebration of the traditional Mass. On a few occasions, I served his private Mass and was impressed by his deep concentration and reverence. He was always very “classical” in performing the rubrics: nothing was ever prolonged for the sake of “devotion” but done in an expeditious, “Roman” manner. There were a couple of practices of his (not really directed to be done one way or another by the rubricists) that stood out for me: for instance, he held the host vertically, rather than parallel to the mensa of the altar, when making the Sign of the Cross over it immediately before the consecration; and he traced the two crosses at the Minor Elevation from the chalice downward to where the Host had rested on the corporal, rather than parallel to the altar. At the time, and even now, I thought to myself that if Don Quoex does it in this manner, that must be the preferred way, because there was no doubt in my mind then or now that few if any surpassed his knowledge of the Roman rite.
After I was ordained a priest, I assisted Don Quoex in the celebration of the Sacred Triduum at San Giorgio in Velabro, acting as deacon for Holy Thursday, celebrant for Good Friday (according to the pre-1955 rite of the Presanctified), and subdeacon for Holy Saturday. The animating spirit behind all this—including Tenebrae of Good Friday—was of course Don Quoex, although several of us “unreformed” clergy helped out. He never let himself be distracted or entangled in the kind of deficiencies or make-do substitutions that plagued organizing solemn Mass in those days: if there weren’t proper Lectors, for example, to sing the Lessons on Holy Saturday, the acolyte and subdeacon could simply take turns, one after the other. Nor was he too concerned that everything be thoroughly rehearsed; in true Roman style, the Master of Ceremonies (more often than not Don Quoex himself served in this capacity) could direct the sacred ministers during the Mass. And he certainly kept uppermost the truly important elements of each of these wonderful Masses of the Triduum: he was, for example, very solicitous to make sure that the Adoration of the Cross by the clergy take place exactly as it was laid down in the books.
As anyone who knew him could affirm, he had a beautiful singing voice and knew how to make the text come alive and ring throughout the basilica. He himself, for the Tenebrae of Good Friday, sang the second nocturn Lessons (from St. Augustine) and with such well-regulated fervor and intensity that it seemed almost as though St. Augustine himself were calling down through the ages as Don Quoex sang those stirring words: “Et vos, O Judaei, occidistis.”
I also had the good fortune to be his guest at Gricigliano (the mother house and novitiate of the Institute of Christ the King, to which he belonged at the time) for Holy Week and Easter. I remember being amazed at how many beautiful, old editions of the Missal and the Breviary he possessed. He was very busy, of course, arranging all the ceremonies, but still he made time to see that I was being taken care of. At the time (1996), I didn’t detect any disaffection with the Institute, although in retrospect perhaps he was less than enthusiastic organizing the Pius XII Holy Week (and who could blame him?) at Gricigliano, unlike his cheerful efforts for our San Giorgio ceremonies. He also had a good-natured impatience with some of the more scrupulous candidates (i. e., postulants) at the seminary. He related to me how he was once asked by one such—as a kind of casus conscientiae—what he ought to do if he couldn’t finish saying the Apostles’ Creed secretly during the Office before the Hebdomadarius intoned “Carnis resurrectionem.” Don Quoex, laughing, told me that he replied to this seminarian: “You don’t have to do anything!”
After I began work on my doctorate later that same year, I was unfortunately not able to see Don Quoex as often as before. He, also working on his doctorate, became more and more involved with “Tradition, Family, Property,” the movement launched, of course, by Don Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira. As much as I can recollect—and I should add that I couldn’t attend any of the meetings as Don Quoex urged me to—this work, or movement, seemed to him to be sound, truly Catholic, and seriously engaged in the work of Catholic restoration. I realize that in the U.S. there has been some controversy over this movement, but I have no doubt that if Don Quoex approved the Italian version of this organization, it was a worthwhile endeavor. He had, in addition, friendly relations with the “Black” Roman nobility, who seemed to hold him in high regard, for instance the Massimo family (at whose palace, for the annual celebration of St. Philip Neri’s miracle, Don Quoex and I would cross paths).
To my regret, I wasn’t able to keep up my acquaintance with this fine priest after I left Rome to return to the States to work on my dissertation. Like many others, I was shocked to hear how very ill he became and how suddenly. I can say without affectation that at the news of his death, I was mortified to think that such a good, young priest should be taken from us when so many less deserving clergy (among them myself) continue to enjoy good health. At the same time, it seemed to me that there was a certain distinction—if that’s the right word—in his suffering and early demise, as though he were to be counted somehow among that great, long-suffering yet persevering generation of Romans—Don Antonio Piolanti, Cardinal Siri, and his beloved Cardinal Stickler, to name a few—who were even then passing away or already deceased. My last memory of Don Quoex, accordingly, is that which I make at the Memento mortuorum at Mass, when I commend to Christ the soul of one whom I was fortunate enough to know as a friend.