Obituary: Father James J. McCarthy, former clergy personnel director and Braintree pastor
Father James J. McCarthy, who throughout his priestly life gave new meaning to burning the midnight oil, died at Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, on July 28, 2023. He had been a resident of Boston's Regina Cleri for almost the past decade. In the past few years, he had been declining both physically and mentally.
He was a Lawrence native, a son of the city's St. Patrick Parish, born there on Jan. 7, 1939. He was the oldest of the three children of the late James and Hannah (Coffey) McCarthy. He attended the parish grammar school and then went to Danvers for high school at St. John Prep. Following high school graduation, he entered the archdiocesan seminaries, first at Cardinal O'Connell in Jamaica Plain, then for philosophy at St. Clement Hall and theology at St. John Hall.
Richard Cardinal Cushing ordained him to the priesthood with his classmates on Feb. 6, 1964, and assigned him as an assistant at St. James the Great Parish, Wellesley. A few months later, he was an assistant at St. Joseph, Quincy. The move to Quincy would be the last time Jim would serve north or west of Boston.
During his Quincy years, he was indefatigable in his parish duties.
In 1971, he was named chaplain at Braintree's Archbishop William High School, but remained at St. Joseph in Quincy and moved to residence at Our Lady of Good Counsel in Quincy's Marymount section. While he was chaplain at Archie's, he was also the athletic director, a not unusual pairing of responsibilities in those years. One of the things for which Jim was known among priests was his attention to detail, which he either had naturally or had to develop as AD at Archie's.
In 1978, he completed his dual tasks in Braintree, and until 1981, was parochial vicar at Resurrection of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ Parish, Hingham.
In another change of ministry in 1981, Humberto Cardinal Medeiros named him assistant director of the Office of Clergy Personnel. The office was responsible for overseeing most of the assignments of the priests of the archdiocese. The archbishop is always the one who makes the assignment of a priest, but he very much relies on the advice of the Clergy Personnel Office. The director and any assistant are also assisted by members of a personnel board, who provide input about the assignments to be made.
From 1981 to 1986, Father McCarthy was the assistant director in that office, and in 1986, Bernard Cardinal Law named him director of the office. During the years he was in the Personnel Office, he maintained his residence at Resurrection rectory, Hingham. Commuting daily to Brighton was part and parcel of his job. It also contributed in no small part to his penchant for arriving early and staying late, sometimes very late, at his third floor office in the "Tribunal" building on the Brighton chancery/seminary campus.
There was an unwritten piece of information among the priests that no matter what time you called Clergy Personnel, day or night, weekday or weekend, Jim would likely answer.
In addition to his regular duties of interviewing priests for pastor or associate positions in parishes, he was also tracking trends of age, ordinations, staffing needs, and priest availability. Something mostly done with computers today, but by Jim McCarthy by hand in those years.
There's a great story about another priest who regularly worked overtime at chancery, the then-Father Richard G. Lennon. The two were friends as their jobs often crossed one another. One night a bit after dinner time, Richard called Jim and said "I'm coming to pick you up and we're going to dinner. No excuses." Richard was the only one who could pull that off and get Jim to agree.
Priests of the archdiocese remember him as a quiet, attentive, and sincere man. They appreciated that he was upfront with information about assignments and took seriously his recommendations. He was genuinely concerned and helpful.
Father McCarthy also said that the two archbishops -- Cardinals Medeiros and Law -- for whom he served in the Personnel Office, were always concerned about their priests and for the most part took the advice of him and the board.
In 1999, he left Clergy Personnel and for the next several months, he served in two assignments: chaplain at Boston Children's Hospital and as a member of the Emergency Response Team.
In October of that year, Cardinal Law named him pastor at St. Thomas More Parish in Braintree. During the next 15 years, he served the Braintree parish with the same untiring dedication and zeal that he had in previous assignments.
Father McCarthy's funeral was celebrated at Sacred Heart Church, Weymouth, on Aug. 5, 2023. Father Sean Connor, the pastor of Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish which includes Sacred Heart Church, was the principal celebrant of the funeral Mass. Among the concelebrants was Father Gerald C. Fraser of Regina Cleri Residence, Boston. Concelebrating were present and past Clergy Personnel officials Father Paul Soper, secretary of Ministerial Personnel, Braintree; Father Richard Fitzgerald, pastor, St. Columbkille, Brighton; and Father Kevin Deeley, pastor of St. Michael, North Andover. Other concelebrants included Father Robert Connors, the regional vicar of the South Region; Msgr. Francis Kelley, of Regina Cleri Residence; and Father Richard Crowley, senior priest, Middleborough.
Archdiocesan vicar general and moderator of the curia, Auxiliary Bishop Mark O'Connell presided at the Mass and celebrated the Final Commendation bringing also the sympathy of Cardinal Seán O'Malley who was at World Youth Day in Portugal.
In addition to his parents, Father McCarthy was predeceased by his sister Sheila, and is survived by his younger brother Gerald, of North Andover. Father McCarthy was buried in the McCarthy family lot at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery, North Andover.