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Remembering Father Joe’s tenacity to help homeless San Diegans

Those who knew him best, say Father Joe's tenacity laid the foundation for helping others that extends well beyond his East Village complex.

SAN DIEGO — Hundreds of San Diegans are expected to attend Father Joe Carroll’s memorial service Tuesday at St. Rita’s Catholic Church in Lincoln Park. Those who knew him best, say Father Joe made caring about our homeless residents cool and his tenacity laid the foundation for helping others that extends well beyond his East Village complex.

Father Joe spent his early years as a priest serving parishes across the county, but in the early 1980s, he found his true calling helping San Diegans who were living on our streets. 

“He had a passion for an issue that, frankly, a lot of people didn't care about at that point,” said Paul Downey. 

He was on then-Mayor Maureen O’Connor’s staff when Father Joe came to City Hall seeking support - and he didn't come alone. 

“He got invited to La Jolla cocktail parties and Rancho Santa Fe shindigs and he started to get people who had influence to care and that's something that hadn't happened before," Downey said.

And he fought for long-term gains that wouldn't just help people right then and there, but for years - and even decades - down the road. 

“He started to build housing,” Downey said. “He built shelters. He built a national reputation as a go-to guy on homelessness.”

Despite his tireless efforts to help others, Father Joe never wanted the credit, even in his dying days. Here's what he told News 8’s Neda Iranpour in one of his last interviews - just three months before his death: “I'm just a normal priest doing normal good things... and making a difference in the world that we live in.”

While Father Joe's Villages may be his signature accomplishment, Father Joe's reach extends across the county in ways many don't even know about.  

Downey is the president and CEO of Serving Seniors, an organization that has collaborated with Father Joe's nonprofit to create meaningful programs for seniors. To Father Joe, everyone was important. 

“A lesson from Father Joe would be to everybody out there, when you encounter a homeless person, at least say 'hello,'” Downey said. “Say 'good morning.' Wave to them. Do something and remember they're a human.”

Father Joe’s memorial service begins at 10 a.m. Tuesday and will be streamed live on this page. 

WATCH RELATED FROM THE NEWS 8 ARCHIVES: Father Joe Carroll discusses plans for St. Vincent de Paul Center in 1983