Catholic Sentinel photo by Gerry Lewin
Fr. Tom McCarthy preaches at St. Francis Church in Sherwood.
Catholic Sentinel photo by Gerry Lewin
Fr. Tom McCarthy preaches at St. Francis Church in Sherwood.
SHERWOOD — It was 1999 and Beth Link couldn’t help herself. For Sunday Mass, she packed up the kids and drove a fair distance back to the family’s old parish — St. Francis Sherwood. The Links had moved, but missed Jesuit Father Tom McCarthy so much that they felt compelled to return.

Father McCarthy, pastor of St. Francis for 19 years, earns that kind of devotion just by being his genial, witty self.

"As long as my inner motive is to proclaim the gospel, I can take anything," says the 81-year-old priest, who will leave the parish at the end of the month. He eschews the 'R' word, instead explaining that he will go on "sabbatical." He looks forward to more time reading and praying when he moves into the Jesuit residence in Southeast Portland.  

A North Dakota native, he graduated from Central Catholic High School in Portland and entered the Jesuits in 1949. After teaching at Seattle Prep for years as a seminarian, as is the Jesuit way, he was ordained in 1962. In the 1970s, he taught at Jesuit High in Portland and also at Gonzaga University. For nine years, he served in provincial administration for his religious community, then became a hospital chaplain and pastor in the central Oregon town of LaPine. In 1993, he became pastor in Sherwood, which was about to go through a boom as a Portland bedroom community.

In 2004, he and a team of laity led the opening of the first Catholic school in Oregon in 45 years. “We have acres of land and acres of kids,” he told the Catholic Sentinel then. “What better to do with that? So we’re walking where angels fear to tread. Not many angels have started a new school lately.”

He said one of the parish's most important duties would be helping parents teach their children to cope in a materialistic world and live the Gospel.

In 2005, Father McCarthy was leading a pilgrimage in Rome when Pope John Paul died. “There you are with all these wonderful, devout, reverential people,” he said then. “Being in the crowd was an essential experience. The people were intent on honoring Pope John Paul. You saw him in a new way because of the people who came.”

There can be controversy at parishes. Father McCarthy had a strategy based on Jesuit spirituality.

“It’s all discernment of God’s will and what is to God’s greater glory,” the pastor says. “All the trouble can be minimized if you keep God’s greater glory foremost. It brings serenity.”

Over the years, he has marveled at how lay people serve their families and their parish and do so much good in the world. For his part as a celibate man, he feels blessed to have time and freedom to share the gospel.

In his last weeks, he asked the parish secretary to print lists of all the children he had baptized and all the youngsters who received first Communion from his hand. He plans to keep the bulky documents as sacred mementoes.