St. Paul loses retired pastor as diocese’s Emerald Isle connection fades

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Fr. Eugene O’Carroll, poses for a photo near the St. Paul Parish baptistry. Fr. O’Carroll passed away Sept. 1. (Gina Keating/CATHOLIC SUN)

Fr. Eugene O’Carroll

Born: Feb. 6, 1937
Ordained: June 17, 1962 in Ireland for the Diocese of Tucson
Service in the Diocese of Phoenix:
  • Pastor, St. Thomas the Apostle, Phoenix (1967-1973)
  • Pastor, St. Henry, Buckeye (1973-1981)
  • Pastor, St. Paul, Phoenix (1981-2008)
Died: Sept. 1, 2018

Funeral Information

Visitation: 6-8 p.m. Sept. 5 at St. Paul’s Parish, 330 W. Coral Gables Dr., Phoenix
Funeral Mass: 10 a.m. Sept. 6 at St. Paul’s Roman Catholic Church, 330 W. Coral Gables Dr., Phoenix
Memorial: Society of St. Vincent de Paul, P.O. Box 13600, Phoenix, AZ 85002-3600

MEMORIAL CONTRIBUTIONS

The time has come to return a gift on loan from Ireland and the Diocese of Tucson nearly 50 years ago.

Fr. Michael Eugene O’Carroll was in his fifth year of ministry and fourth priestly assignment — but his first as pastor — when he arrived at St. Thomas the Apostle in 1967. Two years later, the Camelback Corridor parish, along with many others, became part of the newly established Diocese of Phoenix.

Fr. O’Carroll, fondly known as Fr. Gene, spent the remainder of his priesthood in parish life, well beyond his 2008 retirement. He passed away Sept. 1 and is being buried in the land that first fostered his priestly vocation.

A Sept. 6 funeral Mass was held at St. Paul Parish in Phoenix’s Moon Valley neighborhood where Fr. O’Carroll spent 27 years as pastor. A reception followed in the parish hall that had been dedicated in his name since 2002.

Both gatherings were another chance to honor the work of a spiritual and physical builder in Arizona. Fr. O’Carroll spent nearly 40 years involved with the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults program, beginning at St. Thomas the Apostle.

He shepherded St. Henry parishioners in Buckeye for much of the ‘70s where he oversaw groundbreaking for the old church on Easter Sunday 1980. It was dedicated the following April, shortly before his departure.

Fr. O’Carroll spent the rest of his active priesthood at St. Paul. He supervised the building of a new church, classrooms, a parish hall and a trio of remodeling projects. Each were opportunities to better support faith formation for all ages, explained Mary Ann Ronan, who served as director of religious education under Fr. O’Carroll for 22 years. His love of catechesis was especially evident on sacrament day.

“Every First Communion and then confirmation and first communion was a joy to see,” Ronan said. “He would sit on the altar steps and have a conversation with the children, engaging them to realize what a special day they were celebrating and he would gather them around the altar to make sure they could see the Eucharist as close and personal.”

“Teaching Masses” for Catholics of all ages weren’t uncommon either. He wanted to enable full and active participation of the Mass, Ronan explained.

Benjamin Rosales remembered the day the pastor he served for seven years gave him a new title: director of first impressions, fitting, given his one-time role as St. Paul’s receptionist.

Fr. O’Carroll gave himself plenty of additional titles throughout his priesthood. Members of the Army National Guard from 1970 to 1997 knew him as “chaplain.” The priest was commissioned for the Transportation Battalion and ended his service as a colonel and the State Area Command Chaplain.

The priest was also a chaplain of sorts to couples who attended marriage encounter weekends. He spent a decade in that ministry.

Fr. O’Carroll also earned a master’s degree in church administration. Perhaps it was that background that partially inspired the St. Paul pastor to help re-build a New Orleans-area church destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. He knew it would be restored and wanted to help expedite the process. A monthly tithe from the weekend collection went to rebuilding efforts just two months after the 2005 storm and continued to pour in at least two years later.

Seven Catholic congregations seriously damaged by the 2005 storm were “clustered” under the one church St. Paul supported. Fr. O’Carroll visited in person.

The St. Paul pastor held one more title in his 56 years of priesthood: charter member of the priests’ pension board. It was the first in the nation to be financed out of diocesan funds.

The priest, whose vocation was sparked by a retired bishop calling out to see if he was interested in the seminary, juggled a few titles in his own retirement. Fr. O’Carroll supported spiritual needs at Abrazo Hospital’s Arrowhead campus, had a stint in 2010 as parochial administrator at St. Luke Parish and filled in where needed, particularly at St. Thomas More in Glendale. He spent about 10 years presiding at one weekend Mass a month and occasional daily and holy day Masses as needed. He stepped right up for emergency calls too when Fr. Jim Turner, pastor, was unavailable.

“Fr. Gene was a gentle soul and a good listener. His preaching skills touched many hearts and were a reflection of a man dedicated to his priesthood and to the Lord,” Fr. Turner said. “Fr. Gene was a great talker and would reach into his vast store of memories and anecdotes at the drop of a hat to share with anyone who had a few moments to listen.”

Ronan recalled at least one time the staff at St. Paul was able to get a good laugh from their pastor. They were celebrating his 40th anniversary by taking him to a fancy dinner in a limousine. At the same time, he had been looking for a housekeeper.

“So, a parishioner came in to apply all dressed up as a maid. He laughed so hard and paraded her through the office,” Ronan said. “He was pretty serious but would always join the fun and have a great laugh. He was a priest’s priest.”