View of the pews
A view of the pews in the back at Father Joe’s funeral service. Photo by JW August

St. Rita Catholic Church was packed Tuesday with as eclectic a group of people as you might find at one time in San Diego.

There was a mix of formal church wear and T-shirts, sneakers and Florsheims. The attendees were all there to pay their respects to a priest who dedicated himself to helping the homeless. 

“At the end of the day he wanted to be remembered as a good priest” is how Auxiliary Bishop John Dolan of San Diego described Reverend Monsignor Joseph Carroll.

It’s likely most of those in attendance would agree Father Joe, as he was known, was a “good priest.” He succeeded in his life’s quest to help the homeless, many would agree.

That was certainly the sentiment expressed by a couple in attendance who benefitted from Father Joe’s mission.

Betty, who asked that her last name not be used, said she was looking for “more people dressed like me.” Many could be seen scattered through the crowd. 

Betty lived at St. Vincent DePaul Village but only got to meet Father Joe once. “He came into our dorm and everybody freaked out,” she said. “Oh, he was just in his glory; he was excited because everybody was so excited to see him.” The women laughed and carried on with Father Joe, she recalled.  

Betty lowered her voice and said, “I feel he helped save my life. I didn’t have anywhere else to go. I was in there until I got into a woman’s recovery home for alcoholism and addiction.”

She thought what Father Joe had done was incredible. “I do because he helped so many people,” she said.

Vean, another attendee who said he was thankful to Father Joe, also declined to divulge his last name. He said he originally came to San Diego looking for his grandmother and grandfather. He had been on “a long, long journey — I was walking for a long, long time.”   When he arrived at the Village he had “no place to go, no place to sleep.” 

“I had my own room and I stayed there and I got to recuperate. It took me a while,” he said.  “I worked downstairs in the kitchen, I got to eat regularly, it was great.”

“Father Joe saved my life,” he said.

 Vean and Betty were joined by other homeless as well as attendees who were from a far different world.

Former San Diego Mayor Roger Hedgecock, County Treasurer Dan McAllister, State Sen. Toni Atkins and former San Diego councilwoman Valerie Stallings were some of the others in attendance.

While Betsy and Vean might not have been as well known, it’s a fair bet that Father Joe would have been just as delighted to see them coming to pay their respects.

JW August is a San Diego-based broadcast and digital journalist.