Remembering Father Joe Carroll

Father Joe Carroll, the San Diego Catholic priest noted for his tireless advocacy for our homeless brothers and sisters, passed away yesterday, July 11.

While his efforts to transform how homelessness is addressed were international in their impact, he also had time to serve our community beyond his full-time calling: For some three decades, he was the Catholic chaplain for the San Diego-Imperial Council of the Boy Scouts of America – and was a hands-on Scouting volunteer. Having been a Scout himself growing up in New York, he believed passionately in the need for adults to volunteer for the betterment of our youth.

In spite of the seriousness of his work at San Diego’s St. Vincent de Paul shelter (later renamed for Fr. Joe), and the desperate plight of many of those whom he served, everything Fr. Joe did was leavened with humor.

During a 2013 Boy Scout fund-raising dinner honoring former Congressman Ron Packard at the Carlsbad Sheraton, Fr. Joe was the keynote speaker. In his remarks, he shared a memory of how a Catholic priest and a Mormon elected official became friends through Scouting – and provided an example of how humor can illuminate the ways we have more in common than we might imagine.

Ahead of a National Scout Jamboree at Fort A.P. Hill in Virginia in 1981, enough San Diego-area Scouts signed up that three large buses were chartered for the trip: One was filled with Scouts from troops sponsored by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, with Packard (then the mayor of Carlsbad) in charge. The second was full of Scouts from Catholic-chartered troops, and Fr. Joe was in charge. The third was for all the other Scouts.

As Fr. Joe told the story that night, Packard’s LDS bus followed the Mormon Battalion Trail from San Diego to Council Bluffs, Iowa, then traced back the route the Mormon pioneers had followed from New York to Ohio to Missouri. They stopped at every historic point of interest of importance to their church.

For its part, the Catholic bus followed a route drawn up by Fr. Joe to hit as many Catholic shrines as possible between San Diego and Virginia – with Mass starting off every morning.

But the third bus – well, they apparently managed to find most of the amusement and theme parks across the country.

When the three buses all met up at Jamboree after their very different journeys, Fr. Joe said he and Mr. Packard faced an unforeseen dilemma: “A whole bunch of Catholic and Mormon kids were asking how one went about becoming Presbyterian.”

God speed, Fr. Joe.