For a long time, Father Joe Carroll didn’t want a funeral, fearing a fuss would be made.
But according to his former chief of staff, the “hustler priest” would have been pleased with the simplicity and attendance Tuesday at his funeral Mass at St. Rita Catholic Church in the Lincoln Park area of San Diego.
“We finally convinced him,” said the aide, José González, after the celebration of Carroll’s life. “He was very specific on the music, on what he wanted to have.”
Two of the hymns Carroll chose were “Whatsoever You Do” with lyrics “whatsoever you do for the least of my people, that you do unto me.” And “They’ll Know We Are Christians (by our love)” with words “We’ll guard each one’s dignity and save each one’s pride.”
“He didn’t want anything fancy. He wanted it accessible to people because he was a man of the people. He would have been very happy with it,” said González, who was the personal assistant and “best friend” to Carroll up to his death July 11.
Carroll’s last act was to baptize González’s 2-month-old daughter, Cecilia, at his bedside. González called that gesture “incredibly special.”
Carroll presided at the 2012 wedding of González and his wife, Marybel.
And Auxiliary Bishop John Dolan, who gave a eulogy, reported that Carroll then told González to remember his stipend for services rendered.
Churchgoers laughed, since Carroll was well-known for constantly being on the hunt for donations for Father Joe’s Villages, which he took from a $100,000 operation to $40 million today, Dolan said before the Mass.
Carroll, the legendary San Diego priest who built a nationally known nonprofit organization to help the homeless, died at age 80 after a battle with diabetes.
Born in New York, Carroll was president and CEO of the St. Vincent de Paul Village from 1982 until his retirement in 2011. It was renamed Father Joe’s Villages in his honor in 2015.
His namesake organization has assisted thousands of homeless residents in finding shelter, medical assistance, child care, housing and other resources since he took over nearly 40 years ago.
Dolan pointed out Carroll’s impact on the community, city, country and world.
“At the end of the day, he wanted to be remembered as a good priest. These are the words that Father Joe requested be placed on his burial marker,” Dolan told the people who filled the church with a capacity of 700. More gathered across the street in a church hall with a screen.
Carroll’s brothers, sisters, nieces and nephews attended in the front pew along with about 50 priests at a church where Carroll once was associate pastor.
But during the eulogy, Dolan used additional adjectives to Carroll: outstanding, very dedicated and holy.
The bishop described Carroll’s diocesean office as cluttered with papers, Post-it notes, calendar markers, diet Pepsi cans and bobbleheads.
His office was a reflection of a man who was always seeking, always creating and always scheming.
“His motto was always: Ask for forgiveness rather than permission,” Dolan recalled.
Before the Mass, Dolan told the media a story to exemplify Carroll’s character:
“Father Joe was one of these characters who always had a television on, so he was always alert to the news.”
He went on to tell of Carroll seeing a freeway blockage involving a Campbells Soup truck spilling its load of cans. Carroll quickly hatched a plan: He could use the soup to feed the homeless, recycle the tin cans for funds and turn in the labels to get sports equipment for his center’s youth.
“This is the kind of person he was. He was an opportunist in many ways,” the bishop said, adding that Carroll never wanted anyone “discarded or excluded.”
Carroll helped people of all religious denominations and those shunned in society, including homeless AIDS sufferers, he said.
Dolan said: “He fought the good fight for his neighbors. He did what he could do, and now it is up to us to continue to do neighbors helping neighbors”
Asked what he would most take away from his years working with Carroll, González said: “We all have our role to play. The point of his life and his example to me, as my mentor and teacher and my best friend, was to always be charitable and to give of yourself fully to whatever you are passionate about.
“Giving of yourself fully is really the point,” said González, who is Carroll’s executor. “If we all did that, this world would be a more beautiful, more together place. That’s what his legacy will show.”
After the Mass, González stood outside he church, clutching the bag with Carroll’s cremated remains, as tears rolled down his cheeks.
Carroll’s remains were to be inurned at Holy Cross Cemetery so San Diegans could come and pay their respects, he said.