January 6, 2017
Reverend Monsignor Robert J. McCarthy, age 99, passed into new life the morning of Saturday, January 6, 2018, at the Sisters of St. Joseph Motherhouse in Watertown. Reverend Arthur J. LaBaff, Dean of the Jefferson Deanery, will preside over the reception of the body at the Church of the Holy Family in Watertown at 7:00pm on Wednesday, January 10, 2018. Calling hours will continue until 9:00pm and resume on Thursday, January 11 from 9:00am to 11:30am. At noon Reverend Joseph A. Morgan, Vicar General of the Diocese of Ogdensburg, will celebrate the Funeral Mass with the priests of the Diocese concelebrating. Reverend Steven M. Murray, pastor of Holy Family, will give the homily. Msgr. McCarthy will be laid to rest in Glenwood Cemetery in Watertown.
Msgr. McCarthy was born on July 1, 1918 in Potsdam, New York, the son of Joseph and Bridget (O'Brien) McCarthy. He graduated from Potsdam High School in 1936. After attending Potsdam State Teachers' College for two years, he entered Wadhams Hall Seminary in Ogdensburg and then St. Bernard's Seminary in Rochester, New York. Most Reverend Bryan J. McEntegart, D.D., LL.D. ordained him to the priesthood on October 19, 1946 at St. Mary's Cathedral in Ogdensburg.
His first assignments as a priest were as assistant pastor at St. Mary's Church 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. He served as pastor in St. Patrick's in Colton with a mission church of St. Paul's in South Colton. He then served as 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 parochial assignments, he 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 in 1960 and Diocesan Director of the Apostleship of Prayer in 1966 for which he also served on the national Advisory Board. Beginning in 1973, he became a radio evangelist hosting a monthly radio show in Gouverneur and, later, a daily program in Watertown. He was named Monsignor in 1976.
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. Known as Fr. Bob, 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 his sister Blanche McCarthy.