Funeral services were held Tuesday for Father Joe Carroll, a San Diego icon of charitable services whose decades of work for the houseless made him a noted figure nationally and a beloved civic fixture in his adopted hometown.
The funeral mass for Carroll, who died July 10 at the age of 80 following a battle with diabetes, began at 10 a.m. at St. Rita's Catholic Church in Lincoln Park.
Before mourners flocked inside the church, they spoke amongst themselves and remembered Carroll.
“He was a mover and a shaker, and some would call him ‘the hustler priest, the schemer,’ but he was also a person who wanted to make sure that everyone was included and no one would be discarded," said Most Rev. John Dolan of the Auxiliary Bishop of San Diego.
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"No one would be excluded in his life, so I think when we think of that neighbors helping neighbors, that is something that he really believed in. He really wanted everyone to be a part of this fabric of humanity," Rev. Dolan continued.
Prayers were recited at the church as a beautiful box carrying the remains of the late priest rested at the front of the church.
Carroll was president and CEO of St. Vincent de Paul Village from 1982 until his retirement in 2011, after which the facility was renamed as Father Joe's Villages.
Father Joe Carroll
More on the life of the charitable local figure.
Over the last 39 years, the organization has assisted thousands of homeless people find shelter, medical assistance, child care, housing and other resources.
"Father Joe was a constant source of inspiration, hope and light," Deacon Jim Vargas, president and CEO of Father Joe's Villages, said during a news conference the day following Carroll's death. "He took San Diego by storm. He created innovative programs in his over 30 years of service."
Former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer praised Carroll as "a champion for the people that other people forgot -- the poor, the sick, the homeless."
"He inspired an entire city to care as much as he did, creating lasting organizations that helped so many," Faulconer said. "And he did it all with a twinkle in his eye."
Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, praised Carroll as "a dedicated advocate, someone who always showed up to help our neighbors in need, in big ways and small."
"He was a bright light of hope and love for our community," Atkins said.
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.
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.
The public is invited to leave flowers and messages in Carroll's memory at Father Joe's Villages Joan Kroc Center, 1501 Imperial Ave.
Additionally, the San Diego Convention Center will play host to a celebration of life for Carroll on Aug. 10 at 10.30 a.m. To reserve a free ticket for the event, click here.