REGION — Father Joe Carroll, a well-known and beloved priest whose mission was to help the homeless, has died at age 80.
Carroll died early Sunday morning, July 11, after struggling with diabetes for some time. Known as the “Hustler Priest,” Carroll founded Father Joe’s Villages, a non-profit organization that helped the homeless starting with meeting their basic needs and continuing to help by creating a pathway back to living a full, healthy life.
“He had a vision to get them back into the game of life by providing some pathway forward, but it started with making sure they didn’t starve or freeze to death,” said Pat Kilkenny, chairman and co-founder of the Lucky Duck Foundation and longtime friend of Carroll.
Kilkenny first met Carroll in the early 1990s. He got involved with Father Joe’s Villages, and sometime later down the road Carroll was asked to become a special advisor to the Lucky Duck Foundation’s board of directors.
Based in Del Mar, the Lucky Duck Foundation strives to alleviate homelessness in San Diego County through various ways including providing more access to shelters, employment opportunities, job training, research, partnerships with regional organizations, meals and food rescue.
“We needed to know what works and what doesn’t work, and what can we do to be helpful right now,” Kilkenny said. “He gave us great words of wisdom.”
Born in 1941 in New York, Carroll eventually moved to Southern California in his early 20s. He completed his studies at the University of San Diego and was ordained as a priest in 1974.
Carroll worked at St. Rita Catholic Church in Valencia Park where he led the St. Vincent de Paul thrift store. He made a parking lot near the store into a homeless shelter and eventually gained other property nearby to create a slew of services for the homeless all in one location.
Carroll became a strong fundraiser, having employed nearly 500 people with a budget of $40 million by the time he retired.
The beloved priest was behind the Thanksgiving Day 5K race held each year in Balboa Park. In 2019, San Diego State University gave Carroll an honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters recognizing his lifelong work of helping the homeless.
“He was relentless in his pursuit of raising funds for ‘the neighbors’ as he always said,” Kilkenny said. “He was all about making sure the neighbors were provided for and were also treated with dignity and respect.”
Many others also had kind words to share in honor of Carroll following his death.
Tamera Kohler, chief executive officer of the Regional Task Force on the Homeless, said in a statement that the task force is “deeply saddened” to hear about Carroll’s passing.
“In his three decades devoted to helping people without homes, Father Joe Carroll’s approach centered on the dignity of the individual, going beyond emergency shelter with services like health care, vocational training and finding a path to stable permanent housing,” Kohler said in a provided statement. “His unrelenting determination, coupled with his charm and compassion, leaves an unmatched legacy.”
According to Greg Anglea, CEO of Interfaith Community Services, Carroll brought caring people and practical services together to help the region’s homeless.
“Father Joe always put our neighbors experiencing homelessness first, highlighting their humanity and calling upon us all to help each other in times of need,” Anglea stated.
According to Kilkenny, Carroll’s impact on the community was tremendous.
“Anywhere he would walk in, everybody would light up because he was a saint even before he left this planet,” Kilkenny said. “The guy changed the world and made it a better place, and made me a better person.”
Carroll’s funeral service is scheduled for July 20 at St. Rita Catholic Church.