Fr. Joseph McGaffin

Born: Dec. 8, 1964
Ordained: June 1, 1996
Service in the Diocese of Phoenix:
  • 1996-2006: Parochial vicar
    • St. Mary Parish in Chandler,
    • St. Paul Parish in Phoenix,
    • St. Daniel the Prophet Parish in Scottsdale,
    • St. Jerome Parish in Phoenix and
    • St. Clement of Rome Parish in Sun City.
  • 2006-2010: Pastor of Resurrection Parish in Tempe
  • 2010-2016: Pastor of St. Elizabeth Seton Parish in Sun City
Visitation: 3-7 p.m. Feb. 16 at St. Elizabeth Seton, 9728 W. Palmeras Dr. in Sun City
Vigil service: 5-7 p.m. Feb. 16 at St. Elizabeth Seton
Mass: 10 a.m. Feb. 17 at St. Elizabeth Seton
Internment: Holy Redeemer Cemetery
In lieu of flowers, his family requests donations to support Phoenix’s seminarians
Diocese of Phoenix Office of Vocations, 400 E. Monroe St., Phoenix, AZ 85004

Fr. Joe McGaffin, who most recently served as pastor of St. Elizabeth Seton Parish in Sun City until respiratory problems surfaced last fall, passed away Feb. 12. He was 52.

The family ties between Fr. McGaffin’s earthly and heavenly families were a bit evident. He was born on the feast of the Immaculate Conception to a Catholic family including a maternal grandmother who always wanted a priest in the family.

Then there was that maternal sense that her son would go into some form of work for the Church. His mother, Marie, shared such insights with The Catholic Sun surrounding his ordination 20 years ago.

His family moved to Arizona from New York when Fr. McGaffin was 14. They were St. Joan of Arc parishioners where the future priest also served as youth minister. Mother and son also supported catechesis at Blessed Sacrament Parish in Scottsdale.

Strengthening ties to the Church was the common thread among his earthly father, himself and his heavenly “grandfather” — Jesus’ foster father. All three were named Joseph. And just two days after his ordination, Fr. McGaffin found himself at a Sun City hospital giving an anointing of the sick to his own father prior to open-heart surgery.

It would be that same retirement community where Fr. McGaffin spent his final days. He hoped to return soon as pastor — Fr. Sylvester Modebei was appointed as temporary parochial administrator in his absence — and made it to the parish one last time to attend a vigil Mass Feb. 11 where he received Communion. He was called home by the Lord early the next morning.

Fr. McGaffin was ordained in 1996 and shortly thereafter, was honored to baptize his own nephew. “Fruncle Joe,” as his nieces and nephews called him, regularly served as their confessor, too, and presided over their first Communion. He ensured money was never an obstacle for any of their religious discernment nor for that of others in the diocese.

“He did all it took to get us closer to Christ,” Rebecca Wraith, his niece said.

That included having what Heidi Stoll called a “come to Jesus moment” with her. The pair had served together at St. Mary’s in Chandler and briefly at Resurrection in Tempe.

“It’s not easy for either party. It’s not easy to admonish anyone,” Stoll said, but the then 20-year-old took comfort in the priest’s words: “I can see your sorrow and your contrition,” while assuring her she’d come out the other side okay.

“In one meeting, I got to see both justice and mercy work together,” Stoll said.

Reflection from Fr. Romy Dionisio

Fr. Dionisio served as parochial vicar under Fr. McGaffin at Resurrection. Read his note in the bulletin.

Fr. McGaffin served at St. Mary’s in Chandler, St. Jerome in west Phoenix, St. Paul several miles north, St. Daniel the Prophet in south Scottsdale and St. Clement of Rome in Sun City. By 2006, he was named pastor of Resurrection Parish in Tempe where he started a vocations support program. Four years later, Fr. McGaffin crossed the Valley one final time to serve as pastor of St. Elizabeth Seton where he inspired vocation discernment in two young men including a diocesan seminarian.

“He had a zeal for souls,” Mike Geerling, a member of the parish council, said.

John Battoe, a St. Elizabeth Seton parishioner, called Fr. McGaffin “chaplain,” because of his role within the local Knights of Columbus council. The two also served together on the altar with Battoe calling himself the parish’s oldest altar server.

The two chatted so much that Battoe asked his chaplain to also be his spiritual advisor last summer and once thanked the bishop for sending the parish such a good priest. He described Fr. McGaffin as a good listener who also had effective homilies and loved seeing the priest outside the church before Mass greeting worshippers.

Battoe also mentioned his pastor’s organization skills. That included juggling large presider and preacher schedules.

“Fr. Joe made it possible for a number of our retired priests and deacons to [serve] here once a week,” Battoe said.