Father Joe: Life Stories of a Hustler Priest, as shared with and written by Kathryn Cloward (Kandon Unlimited, Inc., San Diego, 2021, 277 pages).
Book Review by Dennis Moore
April 21, 2021 (San Diego) - I consider it a privilege and an honor to write this review of Father Joe: Life Stories of a Hustler Priest, Father Joe Carroll’s Memoir, as shared with and written by Kathryn Cloward, for some very profound reasons. This book is replete with humorous anecdotes that will lift your spirits, as well as being motivational and inspirational.
The story of this man, Father Joe Carroll, needs to be told and shared with everyone, for it borders on Sainthood. His story told by the author reveals a man who has possibly done more for San Diego than anyone that I could imagine, and I actually had a bird’s eye view of his accomplishments as I once lived in the St. Vincent de Paul Villages homeless shelter for a short period of time after coming here to San Diego from Chicago about 15 years ago – not knowing a soul and with 2 bags of possessions in my hands!
Kathryn Cloward, has captured the essence of this man, the self described “Hustler Priest”, in this well written and poignant story. Her close proximity to Father Joe from her First Communion at Our Lady of Grace (OLG) church at an early age, and throughout, makes her the ideal candidate to tell his story.
Is there such a thing as a hustler priest? Yes! Father Joe Carroll earned that label early in his career – and it stuck. Always a wheeler and dealer, starting from his childhood in the Bronx, his ability to get things done served him well in developing what’s now called Father Joe’s Villages in San Diego, California.
This book of stories from Father Joe’s interesting life is heart-warming and heart-wrenching, while also head-shaking and hilarious. From his antics as a youth and a seminarian to breaking new ground and crossing the lines when necessary to get things done to support neighbors in need experiencing homelessness, you’ll come to understand that “hustler” does suit Father Joe well. And he wouldn’t have it any other way.
A revelation in this book, and noteworthy in the development of the prized St. Vincent de Paul Homeless Shelter, San Diego, is Father Joe Carroll’s relationship with philanthropist Joan Kroc of McDonald’s fame, as he states; “Then, a few days later, Joan Kroc calls me on the phone. I had only met her once in person and we’d never talked on the phone before. She told me she was calling to see how the project was going. I gave an update, and then told her we were $4 million short. Joan told me not to worry. She’d send me $3 million tomorrow. What? I was stunned. Soon enough, we hung up and I thought to myself, ‘Did that just happen?’”
Father Joe would later state in regard to Joan Kroc’s largesse, which essentially brought about the St. Vincent de Paul Homeless Shelter as we now know it: “Next thing you know, a $3 million check signed by Joan Kroc shows up with a letter stating that only Father Joe was allowed to spend money.” St. Vincent de Paul Joan Kroc Center opened in 1987.
In Father Joe: Life Stories of a Hustler Priest, Father Joe Carroll is pictured here with Joan Kroc and Bishop Maher blessing the new St. Vincent de Paul Joan Kroc Center. My brother Ronnie and I actually worked in this pictured kitchen area when we were residents of the homeless shelter, washing dishes and serving meals to other residents, which is a requirement of all those living in the shelter.
Ironically, in an earlier review by me of a book by Lisa Napoli in the East County Magazine, Ray & Joan, Father Joe Carroll writes in the appendix of the book about his benefactor Joan Kroc: “Where Did the Fast-Food Fortune Go? – There are so many gifts you don’t know about. When you hear she did one gift, there were probably thirty others.”
A hilarious anecdote was made in this book that underscores the relationship of Father Joe Carroll and Joan Kroc. While driving through London in a limousine, the car phone would ring and on the other end of the line, Father Joe heard Joan say, "Pardon me, do you have any Grey Poupon?" What a sense of humor!
Another passage in this book that resonates with me is the chapter "One-Stop Shop." Father Joe as shared with and written by Kathryn Cloward states: "Upon opening, we were able to immediately provide housing solutions for 315 neighbors in need. In addition to serving three meals a day for residents in our program, we continued serving unsheltered neighbors in need with a daily hot meal just as we had been doing for a few years prior from the other buildings we rented. We simply moved over to our new building. It was designed purposely with a fantastic full-service industrial kitchen that was more than suitable for handling everything needed for preparing and serving thousands of hot meals every day."
Perhaps the most profound and poignant passage in this book is Father Joe stating: “The greatest honor of my life has been being a priest and it’s been my desire to follow in the footsteps of Jesus to the best of my ability. In addition to Father Joe, there will be five words on my gravestone: ‘He was a good priest.’ It won’t say great or exceptional; ‘good’ is the word and good is good enough for me. Perhaps by reading this, you will discover that good is good enough for you in your life, too.”
Additionally, and for further insight into this humble servant of God, he states: “This book shares stories from my life experiences and how God guided me to be a servant of the people – including being kicked out of the seminary, being fired from jobs, and accepting the moniker of being a ‘hustler’ wheeler and dealer to get the job done.” This admission and frailty by Father Joe, actually makes me feel better about myself, as I have done far worse than being fired from jobs!
Father Joe elaborates on his early and colorful life by stating: “One direction I was taking liquor, which was skirting the law. The other direction, I was taking typewriters, televisions, tape recorders – all kinds of goodies. It was quite the operation. I was saving everyone money in both directions because I could get them discounts on what they wanted. That’s why everyone called it my five-finger-discount business – because they thought I had to be doing something shady to be getting such great prices. My friends would say, ‘Carroll, you’re a shady character.’” My brother Ronnie, whom once lived in the homeless shelter at St. Vincent DePaul, laughed with me last night when I shared with him this “five-finger-discount” story, for we knew all too well what it actually meant, as our family grew up in this type of world!
Kathryn Cloward, the author of this book, is pictured here with Father Joe at Our Lady of Grace (OLG) church for her First Communion.
Further, Father Joe states: “I have lived a joyful and fulfilling life. Within the pages of this book, I pass along some seeds of goodness to you. Perhaps you will pass seeds of goodness along to others. And so it goes as we help each other grow through life. God bless you today and always. May you experience the joy and fullness of life every day.”
Realizing that Father Joe is a Catholic Priest, another passage in this book that resonates with me states: “Yes, I am Catholic. It’s my faith and how I live. In living out my faith, I do my best to be and live as close to how Jesus lived as possible – and that means doing my best to be respectful of everyone. When Jesus said love your neighbors as yourself, He meant everyone. Jesus didn’t say love only people who believe like you, look like you, live like you. Everyone. Everyone is our neighbor.” Profound!
Father Joe Carroll’s Memoir, as shared with and written by Kathryn Coward, is actually a compilation of heart-warming stories by Father Joe. One such story that resonates with me is that of Mother Antonia Brenner, who ran a prison ministry in Tijuana and was a compassionate servant to so many neighbors in need across the border. Until the end of her life she lived inside the La Mesa Prison in Tijuana, calling all the murderers and other criminals her sons and daughters, providing them with love and compassion every day. The irony is that I also lived in Tijuana for about 5 years, and was once the President of the Bethel A.M.E. Prison Ministry in San Diego for 2 years, ministering to inmates at Donovan Prison and the George Bailey Center Jail in San Diego, as well as the downtown San Diego jail. Father Joe and I would have made a formidable team!
Father Joe tells a compelling story about Mother Antonia, pictured with her here, and the first time that he met her, which is before he says that she had him and others at St. Vincent DePaul wrapped around her finger!
In this book full of a rich tapestry of anecdotes, Father Joe says of Mother Antonia Brenner: “I was wrong. As I walked up to Mother Antonia, she dropped to her knees and extended her hands up to me, saying, ‘Padre, your blessing please.’ And in that moment, I melted. I couldn’t say no to her, and I never did. We became friends and together did our best to help neighbors in need. In the book written about her life, the section that mentions me is called, ‘The Best Thief I’ve Ever Known.’ She was remarkable at getting money from people, but it was your heart she stole with her love and compassion.”
In another building project orchestrated by Father Joe, he states: “It needed quite a bit of work, so we orchestrated a big media push and fundraising campaign. Basketball legend Magic Johnson, pictured here with Father Joe, came into town to be a part of it.”
This picture of Father Joe meeting the Pope in Rome says it all about this book and the wonderful Servant of God. It is a book that I highly recommend.
The primary reason for my recommendation of this book, and as indicated earlier, is my coming here from Chicago with two bags in my hand and not knowing a soul in San Diego, and suffering from PTSD due to a number of issues in my hometown. I would find shelter at the St. Vincent de Paul Homeless Shelter and an onsite psychiatrist, Dr. Warren G. Gershwin, would treat me for my PTSD. He made the profound statement to me that in his 40 years of treating patients he had never known anyone that has beaten themselves up over guilt as I had. This is just one of the services beyond housing that St. Vincent de Paul provides, and for that I am eternally thankul and greatful that there is a Father Joe in this world. He changed the trajectory of my life.
Dennis Moore has been the Associate Editor of the East County Magazine in San Diego and the book review editor for SDWriteway, an online newsletter for writers in San Diego that has partnered with the East County Magazine, along with being the former President of the Bethel A.M.E. Prison Ministry in San Diego. Mr. Moore can be contacted at email@example.com or you can follow him on Twitter at: @DennisMoore8.