About 300 people gathered at the San Diego Convention Center on Tuesday in celebration of the life and legacy of Father Joe Carroll, a San Diego icon of charitable services whose decades of work for the homeless made him a noted figure nationally and a beloved civic fixture in his adopted hometown.
Carroll died July 10 at 80 following a battle with diabetes.
He was president and CEO of St. Vincent de Paul Village from 1982 until his retirement in 2011, and the facility was renamed Father Joe's Villages in his honor in 2015.
Father Joe Carroll
More on the San Diego icon.
Carroll was remembered during the 90-minute service through personal remarks, hymns, readings, music, and a special memorial video looking back on his decades of service.
The speakers included Deacon Jim Vargas, the current President and CEO of Father Joe's Villages, Bishop John Dolan and others.
Over the last 39 years, the organization has helped thousands of homeless people find shelter, medical assistance, child care, housing and other resources.
“Being at Vincent DePaul, for me emotionally, it was a relief and I knew I had enough time to be successful and move to the next step,” said Roxanne McNiel, who lived at a shelter provided by Father Joe.
Carroll once said he wanted to serve more than 1.7 million meals to those in need, so he held a race to raise the money. The 5K became an annual tradition in Balboa Park on Thanksgiving Day. Runners who raised more than $100 received a Father Joe bobblehead.
Vargas said several tributes to Carroll were planned.
“We will be honoring Father Joe through the Father Joe Carroll Memorial promenade along 14th street where among other tributes Father Joe’s footsteps will be embedded in the walkway and passerby and residents alike can join him alongside his journey,” Vargas said.
In 2019, San Diego State University awarded Carroll an honorary degree of doctor of humane letters in recognition of his lifelong dedication to the underserved communities of San Diego.
Carroll, a New York native, moved to Southern California in his early 20s. He enrolled at St. John's Seminary in Camarillo, where he was expelled for focusing too much on material gain while running the seminary's bookstore.
He then migrated to San Diego, where he finished his studies at the University of San Diego and was ordained in 1974. He worked at St. Rita Catholic Church in Valencia Park, then was put in charge of the St. Vincent de Paul thrift shop downtown, where he would find his true calling and build his legacy.
He turned a parking lot near the store into a homeless center and worked to acquire other property around San Diego to create a "one-stop shop" where services for the homeless could be consolidated.
In subsequent years he built a powerful fund-raising effort, and by the time of his retirement the organization employed close to 500 people and boasted a budget of $40 million.
“Being a native San Diegan, Father Joe was synonymous with San Diego, everyone knew the name father Joe, everyone knew his mission, knew his passion and knew his heart,” said Councilmember Chris Cate.
The public is invited to leave flowers and messages in Carroll's memory at Father Joe's Villages Joan Kroc Center, 1501 Imperial Ave.
The public is additionally invited to give an honor gift in Carroll's name to The Father Joe Carroll Memorial Fund. The fund will be dedicated to supporting the longterm success of the programs he created and supported and a future of self-sufficiency for neighbors most in need. The fund can be located online, here.