Bishop McCarthy celebrates 60 years of priesthood

Bishop Emeritus John McCarthy blesses a woman during the reception after the Mass celebrating the 60th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood. The Mass was held May 26 at St. Theresa Parish in Austin. (Photo by Enedelia J. Obregón)

By Enedelia J. Obregón
Senior Correspondent

Bishop Emeritus John E. McCarthy celebrated the 60th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood with a Mass at St. Theresa Parish in Austin.
Bishop McCarthy, who turned 86 in June, presided at the Mass on May 26, the anniversary of his ordination at St. Mary Cathedral Basilica in Galveston. The Houston native was ordained bishop at St. Theresa Parish in Houston on March 14, 1979.
He moved to Austin in 1973 when he was named executive director of the Texas Catholic Conference and joined St. Theresa Parish. Since his retirement on Jan. 2, 2001, the bishop has often concelebrated the 11 a.m. Mass there.
Aided by Father Larry Covington, pastor at St. Theresa, Bishop McCarthy processed to the altar along with several priest friends. The Knights of Columbus and the Knights of St. Peter Claver provided the honor guard for the bishop.
His Irish wit was intact as he told the congregation he would be going through 2,000 years of church history during his homily. Pausing for the nervous laughter, he added that he would be presenting them in “four neat 500-year packages.” There was more laughter and some relief.
Bishop McCarthy began his homily with the first 500 years, or “the Apostolic age,” when people were joining the pilgrim church, which was dominated by Sts. Peter and Paul.
The second was the Augustine age, dominated by St. Augustine, the theologian, philosopher and writer and a Doctor of the Church whose work continues to be relevant today.
The third was the schism with the Eastern churches. Pope Leo IX said he had authority over those bishops, but they disagreed. Then there was Martin Luther and the Protestant reformation that began with in 1517 with his “95 Theses.”
The fourth and especially important, was the Second Vatican Council of 1962-65, he said, and the ensuing reforms that changed the structure of the church.
Changing from Latin to the vernacular during Mass and having the priest face the congregation were two of the reforms. 
The most important reform, he said, was the role of the laity. No longer is it the responsibility of the pope, the bishops or the priests to bring the Good News to the world. It is the responsibility of all the baptized.
“The church is not just the pope or those in authority,” he said. “Everybody needs to be involved.”
God has been with us in the person of Jesus Christ who set up a church not of walls, but of faith, he said. That is the message Pope Francis is sending us.
Priests may come and go, but it is the people of the church who are responsible for living the teachings of Jesus Christ.
At a reception following Mass, Bishop McCarthy ignored the chair that had been set for him and stood to greet well-wishers.
Helen Frink was one of the well-wishers who attended. One of her favorite memories about the bishop was from the negotiations in the 1990s between Seton Healthcare Family and the City of Austin.
“He had a wonderful way of exploring options and keeping the door open as he tried to bring the two groups together,” she said.
Although she didn’t know the bishop, she sent him a letter of support and thanks.
“In it, I mentioned that he reminded us by example that being a Catholic means not being a wimp,” Frink said.
A week later, Bishop McCarthy called her at home.
“He wanted to tell me he appreciated my letter and especially liked the ‘not being a wimp’ remark,” Frink said.
During the conversation, the bishop asked about her children and thought their names –– Robert Francis and Margaret Kathleen –– “were grand.”
“We probably spoke for about 30 minutes,” Frink said. “I’ll never forget it. I remember what room I was in and how we had the furniture arranged because this was a special experience in my life. My husband Bill was astounded. He said, ‘Let me get this straight. There are 300,000 Catholics in Central Texas and the bishop just called our house!’”
When she sees him at Mass at St. Theresa participating in the consecration from the front side pew, Frink said that “My heart just sings.”
“We are a blessed community to have Bishop McCarthy,” she added.