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Archives Mass of Christian Burial celebrated Jan. 11 at Holy Family Church in Watertown
Funeral held for Msgr. Robert J. McCarthy, 99

Jan. 17, 2017

Watertown - A Mass of Christian Burial for Msgr. Robert J. McCarthy, 99, was held Jan. 11 at Holy Family Church McCarthywith Father Joseph A. Morgan, vicar general, presiding and priests of the diocese concelebrating.

Msgr. McCarthy died Jan. 6 at the Sisters of St. Joseph Motherhouse where he had resided for several years. Burial will be in the Glenwood Cemetery,

Msgr. McCarthy was born July 1, 1918, in Potsdam, the son of Joseph and Bridget (O’Brien) McCarthy. After attending Potsdam State Teachers’ College for two years, he began studies for the priesthood at Wadhams Hall Seminary in Ogdensburg, and then St. Bernard’s Seminary in Rochester, New York. 

Bishop Bryan J. McEntegart ordained him to the priesthood Oct. 19, 1946 at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Ogdensburg.
His first assignments as a priest were as assistant pastor at St. Mary’s in Canton and Holy Family Church in Watertown. In 1956, he was named temporary administrator at St. Bartholomew’s in Old Forge. Later that year, he was named pastor of St. Mary’s Nativity Church in West Leyden and Ss. Peter and Paul in Fish Creek.

Msgr. McCarthy served as pastor in St. Patrick’s in Colton with a mission church of St. Paul’s in South Colton. He was appointed pastor at St. James Church in Gouverneur for nine years and then at Holy Family Church in Watertown for 21 years until his retirement in 1993.

Along with his parish assignments, the priest served seven years as diocesan Youth Director beginning in 1959 and wrote a regular article for the North Country Catholic.

Msgr. McCarthy was appointed Papal Chamberlain with the title monsignor in 1960 and, in 1976, was named Honorary Prelate.

The priest served as diocesan director of the Apostleship of Prayer in 1966 for which he also served on the national Advisory Board. Beginning in 1973, he hosted a monthly radio show in Gouverneur and, later, a daily program in Watertown.  

Msgr. McCarthy became internationally known as the Carny Priest, using his vacations and days off to serve carnival workers and outdoor showmen in the diocese and eventually across the US. He recognized that carnival workers were often poor, living on the margins of society without permanent homes.

This work developed into a national apostolate. In 1979, he was appointed the National Chaplain to the Carnival Peoples in the United States and was granted a private audience with Pope John Paul II to explain his ministry.

During his service as pastor in Gouverneur, Msgr. McCarthy became chaplain to the local volunteer fire company. He later served St. Lawrence County, the Northern New York Volunteer Firemen’s Association and finally the Firemen’s Association of the State of New York.

To local police agencies and the New York State Police, Msgr. McCarthy became known as Father Mac and served nearly 50 years as chaplain. He ministered to firefighters and law enforcement kept away from home and challenged by the stresses of duty and service.

In 1975, he became the Founding Father of the Sisters of the Precious Blood, a cloistered religious order, when they established a house in Watertown.

Throughout his ministry, Msgr. McCarthy always promoted the consecration of each home to the Sacred Heart of Jesus in a family-centered ceremony.

For 70 years he practiced daily devotion before the Blessed Sacrament.

After retirement, his financial assistance enabled the Sisters of St. Joseph of Watertown to build an infirmary wing for elderly priests. Eventually, he became the first resident.

Msgr. McCarthy was predeceased by his parents and siblings; Daniel B. McCarthy, Ann King, Blanche McCarthy, Margaret McCarthy and Bernadette Fadden. He is survived by nieces and nephews and their children.

Rest in peace, Father Mac
Mary Lou Kilian

It won’t surprise many who knew – or knew of – Msgr. Robert J. McCarthy that his folder in the North Country Catholic’s cabinet of priest files was the thickest of the lot… by far.

In addition to clippings and photos from the diocesan newspaper, Msgr. McCarthy, aka the Carny Priest, was an intruguing and worthy subject for newspapers and magazines across the country.

The front page of Our Sunday Visitor in June of 1993, for example, featured a collection of photos with an invitation to “step right up and meet the carnival workers’ favorite chaplain.”

Father Mac was the subject of a book, “The Carnival Priest,” and the recipient of countless awards.

At the NCC we did our best to keep up with it all.

This past week, memories came flooding back as our diocese said goodbye to this extraordinary priest, one who charmed clowns and clerics around the world.

In a 2015 interview, marking his 70th anniversary as a priest, Msgr. McCarthy said that his service to carnival workers was the most rewarding aspect of his vocation.

“Carnival workers were neglected because they were scene as migrants, because they would come for a few days, then pick up and leave,” he said. “They didn’t pay local taxes and they were not involved in the community.

“Father Mac” traveled 100,000 miles a year saying Mass, performing marriages, baptizing children and working to present a positive image of the carnival.

“Carnival workers have always been discriminated against and looked down upon,” he said. “They’ve been thought us as ‘bad people,’ people who drink, gamble and have tattoos. I tell my audiences that carnival people are just like everyone else: good, hardworking and honest.”

But the work of a priest who lived nearly a century wasn’t limited to his beloved carnival workers.

He also spent 50 years as a chaplain for north country firefighters and law enforcement agencies.

An annual day at the Jefferson County fair sponsored by Watertown city firefighters for children from the Disabled Persons Action Organization is named for Monsignor McCarthy.

There’s also a rescue truck called “McCarthy.”

A group of firefighters showed their appreciation by serving as pall bearers at Msgr. McCarthy’s funeral.
The priest was also a pastor of one of the largest parishes of the diocese, brought the Sisters of the Precious Blood to the diocese and was a fixture on the radio with a daily program of inspirational messages.

But, first and foremost, Msgr. McCarthy was a simple man of God who made a Holy Hour before the Blessed Sacrament nearly every single day for more than 70 years.

In a reflection he wrote for Priest magazine in 2000,  reprinted in the NCC in 2009, Msgr. McCarthy said, “The daily Holy Hour started for me a year before I was ordained when Bishop Fulton Sheen visited my seminary and challenged each seminarian to make a daily Holy Hour as he himself had done for years.

“I started my daily Holy Hour that day and, except in times of sickness or impossibility, I have made an hour with Jesus every day since,” he said.

“As I come to the end of my life, my priesthood and my duties, I give all credit for any of my successes to my daily Holy Hour.

Now, as our beloved priest and friend is spending every hour of every day with Jesus, we thank God for all the successes Msgr. McCarthy brought to our world during his long and faith-filled life.

Well done, good and faithful servant. Well done.

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