The following article has been republished with permission from The Southern Cross, the official journal of the Diocese of San Diego.
With his strong Bronx accent and smirk, Msgr. Joseph Carroll was a San Diego icon.
“Father Joe,” as he was much better known, was the president emeritus and namesake of San Diego’s largest homeless service provider, Father Joe’s Villages.
After years of declining health, which saw both of his feet amputated as a result of complications from diabetes, Father Joe died in the early hours of July 11. He was 80 years old.
Father Joe once said that his greatest achievement has been helping others understand that the homeless are just “neighbors who need our help.”
“When you take out the name ‘homeless’… it seems to eliminate the fear of working with our neighbors in need,” Father Joe told about 800 people who had gathered at the Town and Country Resort & Hotel in Mission Valley at the end of June 2012 to celebrate his life and his work.
Father Joe added that his life had been enriched by daily encounters with people who benefited from the programs of the Villages of Father Joe.
Through a series of long-running TV commercials, in which he solicited donations of not only cars, but also boats and planes to fund local homeless services, Father Joe was more than the face of the villages. from Father Joe. To San Diego’s of various faiths, he was arguably the most recognizable local Catholic. And to local Catholics, including bishops and fellow priests, he was a larger than life personality and a force of nature.
“Father Joe Carroll was a priest who made Christ’s message of compassion and mercy real in a world where we so often look away rather than embrace those who suffer among us,” said Bishop Robert McElroy of the Diocese of San Diego. “So the task of rejuvenating our diocesan action with the homeless four decades ago, he completely recreated that action and gave San Diego an incredible network of homeless programs that exude a deep humanity and hope. and relentless.
“Father Joe’s Villages housing network is a testament to his life’s work. But an even deeper testimony is that Father Joe taught so many of us in San Diego to see the homeless as truly our neighbors, equals in dignity and children of the one God who is the Father of all of us. . In this deeply pastoral ministry, Father Joe Carroll is distinguished in our county and in our nation.
Deacon Jim Vargas, President and CEO of Father Joe’s Villages, issued a statement hours after Father Joe’s death.
“While I am personally saddened by the passing of Father Joe Carroll, I fondly remember the stories and the laughter we shared, and his legacy will live on in everything we do,” said Deacon Vargas.
Noting how Father Joe had “selflessly and tirelessly served our community” for decades, he said, “We are celebrating his life of service.”
Joseph Anthony Carroll was born April 12, 1941 in New York City.
Raised in the Bronx, he moved to Southern California in 1963. There he entered seminary.
Father Joe was ordained a priest for the Diocese of San Diego on June 28, 1974, at St. Joseph’s Church in Carpinteria, California. The ordaining prelate was Bishop Leo T. Maher.
His first years of ministry as a priest were spent in parish life, including duties as associate pastor of Our Lady of Grace, El Cajon; Saint Pius X, Chula Vista; and Saint Rita, San Diego.
In July 1982, Bishop Maher hired him as director of the Saint-Vincent de Paul Center, which already existed about a quarter of a century before Father Joe was even a priest.
“A lot of people think this contact with the homeless is all Father Joe Carroll, but it was here long before me,” Father Joe said in April 2010, as the village of Saint-Vincent-de- Paul was celebrating his 60th birthday.
In his early years as a manager, Father Joe served homeless peanut butter sandwiches daily. He also began to travel the country to learn about social services available to the poor and homeless. He may not have been the founder, but under the watchful eye of the enterprising priest, the center would become what is now Father Joe’s Villages, which has a full four-block campus in East Village and programs across the county that shelter around 2,000 per night.
Last year, the organization served nearly 12,000 homeless people. It has served over 60,000 people over the past decade.
“(Father Joe) took… something that had been lingering for some time and brought it to life. He made it into something exciting, ”said Father“ Chuck ”Fuld, Senior Editor-in-Chief of The southern Cross newspaper.
“The ministry (of Saint Vincent de Paul) had been there for years,” he said. “It kind of always rolled… but he got on with it and all of a sudden – wow! All of a sudden the buildings started to rise.
Father Joe’s Villages owns and operates 10 buildings in San Diego County and provides assistance and rental assistance to even more. Its most recent building, Villa Sainte Therese in Calcutta, is a 14-story building located on 14th and Commercial streets. Scheduled to open next January, the building will include 407 units for more than 500 people and community space on each floor.
Repeatedly, Father Joe recounted his initial reluctance to accept the mission that would ultimately define both him and his priesthood.
“I had a fight with Bishop Maher at the time that I was not the right person,” he recalls in 2010. “Now of course I have to look back and say, I guess the bishops know what they are doing. “
Mgr. Longtime friend Dennis Mikulanis explained the reason for Father Joe’s appointment. In a speech delivered during the celebration in honor of Father Joe in 2012, Mgr. Mikulanis said the decision was made after Bishop Maher and the entire diocesan staff council for priests agreed that Father Joe was “the biggest con artist in the diocese.”
“He has been a con artist for Christ, for the Church, from the very beginning,” said Mgr. Mikulanis. “None of this benefited him. It benefited the Church. It has certainly benefited our community.
In a 1984 television commercial for the Father Joe’s Villages vehicle donation program, Father Joe made this “con artist” character his own. His opening line was, “Hello, I’m Father Joe. I am a con artist.
This nickname also entered the title of his memoir (written with Kathryn Cloward), Father Joe: Stories from the Life of a Hustler Priest, which was released in May.
He led Father Joe’s Villages until his 70th birthday on April 12, 2011, when he rose to the role of President Emeritus. He retired from active ministry in November.
In addition to his work with the homeless, Father Joe supported the Boy Scouts of America, as diocesan chaplain from March 1975 to July 2014, and the Knights of Columbus, as chaplain of the California State Council. in the early 1990s.
Father Fuld recalled how Father Joe, as a Scout Chaplain, convinced him to be one of three chaperones on a trip across the country to attend the 1981 National Scout Jamboree, which s ‘is held at Fort AP Hill, Virginia.
“It was a great trip for me. On the one hand, I quit smoking… because I wasn’t going to smoke in front of the children, ”said Father Fuld, who at the time was still a lay Catholic.
But the trip had an even more significant impact on his future: helping him to discern a priestly vocation.
“It’s one of the things that pushed me in that direction,” said Father Fuld, who was ordained in 1986.
Father Joe was appointed Monsignor on December 16, 1988.
Mgr. Terry Fleming, a priest in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and a friend from their seminary days, once shared that Father Joe was unwilling to receive this honorary title.
“I remember the conversation where Bishop Maher told him he was appointed Monsignor,” he recalls in 2012. “He vehemently opposed it. He said: ‘Monsignor, people will not give money to’ Mgr. Joe. ‘ You will ruin my image.
Bishop Emeritus Robert Brom, who succeeded Bishop Maher in 1990 and led the Diocese of San Diego until his retirement in 2013, does not recall details of his first meeting with Father Joe. But he said that this first meeting would have taken place “certainly” shortly after his own arrival in the diocese as coadjutor bishop in 1989, because he knew Father Joe as “one of the priests whose ministry was. the most exceptional “.
Reflecting on Father Joe’s local fame, Bishop Brom said that to have “someone who is visibly compassionate, visibly energized to reach out to those in need” was “a tremendous testament to what the Church represented “.
But what struck him most about Father Joe was something much more intimate: the late priest’s reaction to suffering.
“There was great suffering in his life,” said Bishop Brom, “but he never called attention to it and he never complained. Never. … He would join his sufferings to those of Jesus on the cross for the salvation of the world.
“He learned that perhaps his greatest contribution to promoting God’s reign was not his fundraising, not his ‘hustle’… but the suffering he endured in silence to promote the reign of God. Said Bishop Brom.
Auxiliary Bishop John Dolan, at the 2012 celebration of the life and work of Father Joe, said he could tell “a million stories” about Father Joe. But he clearly had a favorite. David Copley, editor of Copley Press, had canceled a lavish dinner and decided to donate the lobsters to Father Joe’s Villages, Bishop Dolan recalled. About a week later, Father Joe was directing Fred Rogers of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” on tour. When they got to the kitchen, he said, Rogers heard a homeless man whine about another day of lobster bisque.
“Father Joe Carroll was a heroic man who helped his community with all his heart and soul. He helped the poor, the hungry and the homeless and had the gift of bringing people together in his mission to serve, ”recalled US Representative Juan Vargas, who represents the 51st Congressional District.
“I hope the Church will canonize him, for his work was truly holy.”