John Edward McCarthy (June 21, 1930 – August 18, 2018) was an American Roman Catholic bishop; he was the third Roman Catholic bishop of the Diocese of Austin (1985-2001). His leadership helped enable the U.S. Catholic church to address the challenge of systemic poverty.[1] His life of service in the Catholic Church was characterized as one of justice, equality and inclusion.[2]

John Edward McCarthy
Bishop Emeritus of Austin
AppointedDecember 19, 1985
InstalledFebruary 25, 1986
Term endedJanuary 2, 2001
PredecessorVincent Madeley Harris
SuccessorGregory Michael Aymond
OrdinationMay 26, 1956
by Wendelin Joseph Nold
ConsecrationMarch 14, 1979
by John Louis Morkovsky, Lawrence Michael De Falco, and Patrick Flores
Personal details
Born(1930-06-21)June 21, 1930
Houston, Texas, U.S.
DiedAugust 18, 2018(2018-08-18) (aged 88)
Austin, Texas, U.S.
Previous postAuxiliary Bishop of Galveston-Houston
Styles of
John Edward McCarthy
Mitre (plain).svg
Reference style
Spoken styleYour Excellency
Religious styleBishop

Early life, poverty and educationEdit

Early life and povertyEdit

McCarthy was born in Houston, Texas, to George McCarthy and Grace O'Brien McCarthy. The youngest of four children, he was just 18 months old when his father died.[3] His mother struggled to support her family in the midst of the depression, although money sent by a New York uncle substantially helped to sustain the family.

He suffered a ruptured appendix at the age of 5 and nearly died. That led to three abdominal surgeries the following year and he was kept away from contact sports by his mother following doctor's advice. An avid learner, he picked up world geography and followed the progress of World War II armies at his mother's kitchen table. Although he fell behind in athletics, his brother, Frank, remembers, "in the classroom, he was untouchable, a straight-A student".[3]

During the World War II prices soared and the family faced greater difficulty than during the depression. He and his brothers took jobs to help. During his high school years, he worked in a downtown Houston petroleum statistics office, running a multi-lift printing press.[4] He also started his own janitorial service which had three employees.[3]


McCarthy was the product of lifelong Catholic education, beginning as a first grader at All Saints School in the Houston Heights.[4] He graduated from St. Thomas High School in Houston and earned a bachelor's degree from the University of St. Thomas in Houston in 1956 where he majored in economics and sociology. He began his seminary training at St. Mary Seminary. He was awarded a master's degree in theology from the University of St. Thomas in 1979.[5]

Service in the Catholic ChurchEdit

Parish assignmentsEdit

McCarthy was ordained to the priesthood May 25, 1956 for the Diocese of Galveston. His first assignment was St. Pius Parish in Pasadena where he initiated his first parish social ministry program.[1] His next parish was St. Celicia's, located in an affluent section of Houston. His third assignment was his home parish, the "Polish and Czech-infused" All Saints Parish. After non-parish assignments in San Antonio and Washington D.C., he returned to Houston and became pastor of St. Theresa's. It was here that he developed his ideas for the parish social ministry model.[4] This "Sisters in Social Services" program was adopted by Catholic Charities USA.[1]

Committee for Spanish-speaking CatholicsEdit

In 1966 McCarthy went to San Antonio and was appointed executive director of the Bishops' Committee for Spanish-speaking Catholics, where he focused on the plight of underpaid, oppressed migrant farmworkers.

National serviceEdit

In 1966 he went to Washington, D.C. and worked with the U.S. Catholic Conference. He served as the director of the Social Action Department for one year and director of the Division for Poverty Programs for another year. He also helped found the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, which became the Catholic leadership's primary anti-poverty initiative, hammering out the initial concepts at a weekend retreat.[2] Its mandate included areas such as voter registration, community-run schools, minority-owned and rural cooperatives, and job training programs.[1]

Executive Director of Texas Catholic ConferenceEdit

In 1973 the Bishops of Texas asked McCarthy to be the executive director of the Texas Catholic Conference (TCC), the public policy arm of the bishops.[1] At that time Texas had eleven dioceses and was the largest state conference in the nation. He enjoyed the diversity of the role, once contrasting the differences between El Paso and Beaumont. He led the TCC for seven years before he was called to his next assignment, Auxiliary Bishop.[4]

Auxiliary Bishop of Galveston-HoustonEdit

McCarthy was consecrated auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Galveston-Houston on March 14, 1979 and served for seven years.

Bishop of AustinEdit

On December 24, 1985, he was appointed Bishop of the Diocese of Austin[6] and installed on February 26, 1986. He served for 15 years. Pope John Paul II accepted McCarthy's resignation on Jan 2, 2001.[5]

Early in his tenure as Bishop he traveled to the 1987 National Black Catholic Congress. After returning he established the Office of Black Catholics to focus on African American ministry within the Diocese of Austin. He appointed Johnnie D. Dorsey, Sr to lead the office. Dorsey coordinated and directed the Office for the next 30 years.[7]

In Austin McCarthy oversaw substantial population growth. At the beginning of his tenure the diocese had around 115,000. Fourteen years later, when he retired, there were nearly 400,000 Catholics. He was very active establishing Catholic schools and parishes to accommodate the influx of people moving into the Austin area during this period.

He encouraged parishes to focus on their social advocacy and charity work. He also established missionary programs both abroad and at home.

McCarthy established the Diocesan Law Project, which recruited hundreds of attorneys and interpreters to volunteer legal services for those in need.

He issued two notable pastoral letters to Catholics in the Austin Diocese. In 1992 a letter asked Catholics to practice compassion for people living with HIV/AIDS. A second in 1993 called attention to the entertainment industry citing the "tragic collapse of standards of decency, morality and honesty in TV, movie and popular music products." His letter urged Catholics to question themselves, what values were being instilled by the popular media. [1]

Parish social ministry modelEdit

McCarthy believed that the purpose of a parish is to "make Jesus present". He broke that down into three areas; worship, teaching and lessening pain. Although every parish had organized programs on worship and education, his concern was they did not always have any structures to address local social needs. Motivated to have parishes more deeply involved with their immediate neighborhoods, he created the first organized parish social ministries. Its goal was for every parish to establish a program for social concerns.[4]

As a young pastor at St. Pius Parish in Houston in 1969 he began implementing this model of social ministry, articulating how social services should be delivered. His model was based on parishes developing their own programs to meet the needs of those living within parish boundaries.[3][8] While pastor of St. Theresa's he continued to develop the parish social ministry model. His parish social ministry model spread throughout the Galveston Diocese.[9] Eventually this "Sisters in Social Services" model was adopted by Catholic Charities USA.[1]

Social justiceEdit

Self described as "slightly tilted toward the left", he was known for his efforts supporting civil rights, helping oppressed workers, increasing minority inclusion in the church and abolishing the death penalty.[10] He initiated and spread a model of parish social ministry.[8]

Texas benefited from McCarthy's decades of service to the poor, immigrants, disenfranchised people and the Roman Catholic Church.[2] As a young priest, McCarthy took part in protests to advance civil rights for African-Americans and other disenfranchised people.

"He marched in Selma," said Luci Johnson daughter of President Lyndon Baines Johnson. "So the Great Society programs my father had in civil rights, these are the causes that were dear to the heart of a young priest." [3]

McCarthy supported the 1960s movement led by civil rights activist Cesar Chavez to help oppressed farmworkers.[2]

When the National Conference of Catholic Bishops committee released a statement calling for Catholic parents to embrace their gay and lesbian children, McCarthy praised their action.[3]

McCarthy was considered more liberal than his successors, according Tara Trower Doolittle, an editor at the local paper. He opposed the death penalty and racial injustice both in Houston and in Austin, long before others.[11]

He used his influence with the legislature and individual Catholic lawmakers to reform the criminal justice system. He made the case to abolish the death penalty years before DNA testing was available to prove innocence. He was known to pressure decision makers at the Texas State Capitol over the issue.[2]

As bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Austin McCarthy permitted the local city hospital run by Catholic-affiliated Seton hospital, to perform tubal ligations. This conflicted with church law on birth control and at the behest of the Vatican this was discontinued.

He recognized the centrality of the priesthood as the organizing tool of the church. He said the priest makes the sacraments possible, which make Jesus Christ present. Since he wanted to build new, smaller communities, it would require more priests. To that end he wrote letters to his fellow U.S. and Texas bishops and to the Vatican on the issue of priestly celibacy. He urged them to respond to what he saw as a looming crisis and consider optional celibacy, suggesting allowing priests to marry. In a 2013 interview he said "It might mean woman priests." He suggested that even if a priest couldn't be available full-time, perhaps a nun could act as pastor to a smaller parish.[12]

Blog and bookEdit

After his retirement Jan. 2, 2001, McCarthy wrote a blog and enjoyed numerous hobbies. In 2013 he published a collection of his blog writings in a book, "Off the Cuff and Over the Collar: Common Sense Catholicism".


Bishop John McCarthy died at his Northwest Austin home August 18, 2018 at age 88.[13] At the time of his death in August 2018 he was a member of St. Teresa's Catholic Church of Austin.[10][9]

His burial Mass was held at St. William Catholic Church in Round Rock and attended by 1,200 clergy, churchgoers, family, friends and residents. He was remembered with laughter and applause. Long time friend Pat Hayes, of Seton Healthcare Network and St. Edward's University, summarized McCarthy's philosophy. "He believed, that together we could advance justice for the common good."[13]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Catholic News Service (Aug 21, 2018). "Bishop McCarthy dies; had national role in church's efforts on poverty". National Catholic Reporter. Retrieved October 11, 2018.
  2. ^ a b c d e Editorial Board (2018-08-23). "Editorial: McCarthy leaves legacy of justice, equality and inclusion". Austin American-Statesman. Retrieved 2018-09-17.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Perkes, Kim Sue Lia (April 26, 1998). "Bishop John E. McCarthy isn't a power kind of guy". Austin American-Statesman. Retrieved August 22, 2018.
  4. ^ a b c d e McCarty, Bishop John; Grimes, Jill. Off the Cuff and Over the Collar - Common Sense Catholicism.
  5. ^ a b "Bishop John E. McCarthy". Diocese of Austin. Archived from the original on 12 August 2010. Retrieved 31 December 2010.
  6. ^ Auten, Roseana (December 27, 1996). "Austin Ain't Boys' Town". Austin Chronicle. Retrieved 31 December 2010.
  7. ^ "Black Ministry - Diocese of Austin". Diocese of Austin. Retrieved Oct 9, 2018.
  8. ^ a b "Former Austin Catholic Diocese Bishop, John McCarthy, died Saturday at his home, surrounded by family". Austin American-Statesman. Aug 19, 2018. Retrieved Aug 22, 2018.
  9. ^ a b Moreno-Lozano, Luz (August 19, 2018). "John McCarthy, retired former Austin diocese bishop, dies at 88". Austin American-Statesman. Retrieved Aug 22, 2018.
  10. ^ a b McCarthy, John. "Bishop Emeritus John McCarthy: A reflection on 60 years of change". Austin American-Statesman. Retrieved 2018-08-22.
  11. ^ Doolittle, Tara Trower (May 31, 2016). "Retired bishop John McCarthy is still fighting the good fight". Austin American-Statesman. Retrieved August 22, 2018.
  12. ^ Gross, Joe (August 16, 2013). "Former Bishop of the Diocese of Austin John McCarthy reflects on a life in the Church". Austin American-Statesman. Retrieved Aug 22, 2018.
  13. ^ a b Flores, Nancy (Aug 25, 2018). "Applause, laughter amid the mourning for Bishop John McCarthy". Austin American-Statesman. Retrieved October 10, 2018.

External linksEdit

Episcopal successionEdit

Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
Vincent Madeley Harris
Bishop of Austin
Succeeded by
Gregory Michael Aymond
Preceded by
Auxiliary Bishop of Galveston-Houston
Succeeded by