‘Hey, I thought you were dead’ — revisited

Since Sunday is World Priest Day, I thought I would dig out a dusty old column I wrote 15 years ago, in the May 5, 2000 Anchor, in tribute to a wonderful priest many young people had the pleasure of encountering in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s — Father Paul McCarrick.

He was a man who made an impression, and influenced many people during his stay on earth, one devoted to Christ. The column was as follows:

You can’t drive around many cities or towns in this diocese nowadays without seeing the boys and girls of summer preparing for their respective baseball leagues. 

Watching the ritual of spring always brings back good memories. And those memories include one dominant sports figure in this area; the late, great Father Paul F. McCarrick. Anyone even remotely connected with amateur sports from Boston to Fall River, from Attleboro to Cape Cod, knows the legacy of this kind, generous priest.

For those who don’t know of Father Mac, he was a diocesan priest who not only tended the parishioners he pastored, but also the youth of Southeastern Mass., no matter the race, color or creed. He supplied less fortunate individuals with free baseball or ice hockey equipment, helped some obtain college scholarships, and worked long and hard, without fanfare, to keep the area’s youth off drugs and out of trouble. He was a vital cog in the success of the area’s CYO sports programs and the Bristol County Baseball and Ice Hockey Leagues.

Always at this time of year, I can’t help but picture Father Mac’s big black car pull up to the diamond at Chew Park in Fall River to watch one of the thousands of games he attended in his lifetime. I can still see him pulling out his folding chair and setting it up on the grassy hill located between home plate and third base. I can still see him wearing his thin, black raincoat, no matter how cool or raw those May and June nights became. Even when he was battling cancer and wasn’t feeling well, he still held court in that same spot.

I can remember one cool, damp evening only a few years ago when one of the park regulars approached him and said, “Father Mac, I thought you were dead.” Without missing a beat, Father Mac gave the teen a mock look of annoyance and responded wryly, “Not yet.”

While Father Mac attended countless games, I really don’t know how many he actually saw. During the games he was constantly calling people over. Some he sent to his trunk to get a new uniform or glove, others he called over just to talk to — or should I say counsel. More than once I can remember youngsters telling him of a comrade who got in some sort of trouble recently, and often he could be seen that night talking to the individual one-on-one. That was his most prized gift — his genuine concern for youth. He could exchange zingers with the best of them, but deep down inside, he cared for the welfare and well-being of young people.

As a youth growing up in the ’60s and ’70s, I saw him doing the same things, but I didn’t appreciate what he was all about. Then, as an adult, seeing him work his same magic, it sank in. As a teen, I was once the recipient of one of his man-to-man talks. But only later did I appreciate his concern. And I’m not alone. There are many adults today who can tell of receiving a well-timed bit of advice from Father Mac.

I feel sorry for kids today who didn’t get to know him, and stories alone can’t do him justice. It’s nice though that the ball field he frequented is named Father Paul F. McCarrick Field. Hopefully some ballplayer will ask his or her mom or dad who he was, and will be told who Father Mac was, and about a time they were pulled aside for their own good.

But even now I can still see Father Mac in his favorite spot. Hey Father Mac, I thought you were dead — and I can see him giving me a raised eyebrow. I guess not. 

He’ll be there for every game that’s ever played on that field, as usual.

davejolivet@anchornews.org

© 2018 The Anchor and Anchor Publishing   †   Fall River, Massachusetts