SAN DIEGO — San Diegans had one last opportunity to say goodbye to a beloved community icon July 20, when the funeral Mass for Msgr. Joseph “Father Joe” Carroll was celebrated in a packed St. Rita’s Church.
Bishop Robert McElroy presided over the liturgy, joined by Auxiliary Bishops John Dolan and Ramón Bejarano, Bishop Emeritus Robert Brom and more than 70 priests. There were also many dignitaries in attendance, including former U.S. Rep. Susan Davis; David Malcolm, longtime business and civic leader; and former San Diego Mayor Roger Hedgecock. A total of 25 family members from the East Coast also attended, including four siblings of Father Joe.
“Joe Carroll, priest of the Diocese of San Diego … was a wonderful man of faith, who took that faith and taught people to see through the eyes of Christ, particularly those who were marginalized in our society, those who were abandoned, those who were homeless, to see them as brothers and sisters in Christ,” Bishop McElroy said.
Father Joe, who served as president of Father Joe’s Villages for 28 years until transitioning into the role of president emeritus in 2011, was arguably San Diego’s most recognizable Catholic, thanks to his appearances in a series of long-running television commercials for the organization. Under his leadership, he turned a humble diocesan outreach to the homeless into San Diego’s largest homeless services provider.
After years of declining health, which saw the amputations of both of his feet as the result of complications of diabetes, Father Joe died in the early hours of July 11. He was 80.
Those participating in the various liturgical roles at the funeral Mass represented a “who’s who” of Father Joe’s longtime friends and collaborators in ministry. For example, Sister RayMonda DuVall, former executive director of Catholic Charities of San Diego, proclaimed one of the readings, and José González, his assistant, proclaimed the other. Msgr. Dennis Mikulanis bore the urn containing the cremated remains, along with Msgr. Terry Fleming, González and Patrick Carroll, Father Joe’s grandnephew. Deacon Jim Vargas, the CEO and president of Father Joe’s Villages, assisted at the altar.
Auxiliary Bishop Dolan, who at one time had worked for Father Joe in the corporate office of what was then called St. Vincent de Paul Village, delivered a heartfelt homily.
The auxiliary bishop noted that Father Joe had been known by many titles over the years and had received numerous prestigious honors, including being recognized by President George H.W. Bush as one of his “Thousand Points of Light” in 1990, named “Mr. San Diego” by the Rotary Club of San Diego in 2012, and awarded an honorary doctorate from San Diego State University in 2019.
“But, at the end of the day, he wanted to be remembered as a good priest,” Bishop Dolan said, explaining that it was those three words — “A good priest” — that Father Joe had requested to be inscribed on his burial marker.
Bishop Dolan shared how a few weeks earlier, from his sick bed, Father Joe had baptized the child of a longtime friend. Retaining his sense of humor and poking fun at his own reputation as a prodigious fundraiser, Father Joe had quipped after the baptism that his friend should not forget to give him a stipend.
Another longtime friend, Msgr. Fleming of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, eulogized Father Joe at the conclusion of the Mass.
“Joe had such a great love for and respect for the human person,” he said.
Msgr. Fleming shared that he was wearing Father Joe’s monsignor’s cassock as a tribute. He urged those in attendance to do two things for Father Joe: Drink a Diet Pepsi, which was his beverage of choice, and say a prayer for him. He also asked Bishop McElroy to overrule Father Joe’s request that “A good priest” be inscribed on his burial marker.
“I think that’s wrong,” said Msgr. Fleming, “and I’m asking (Bishop McElroy) to issue a decree that it not say ‘A good priest,’ (that) it will say ‘A great priest.’”