Cawker City — An overflowing crowd filled SS. Peter and Paul Church and echoed the chorus of the “Lilies of the Field” for the Great Amen during the Dec. 4 Funeral Mass for Father Don McCarthy. Father McCarthy, who was a priest for more than 58 years, died Nov. 27. “I gotta give him credit, the whole purpose was to get people to sing,” said Father Damian Richards during the homily. “(Lilies of the Field Amen) did what it was designed to do. That amen is proof of the hope of God. There was no way you could sing that song sadly. It’s impossible. It’s a joyful song. It reflected that joy and hope.”
More than 300 people, young and old, as well as 40 priests gathered to say goodbye to Father McCarthy. He was a pastor, in addition to working in administration in nearly every Catholic high school in the diocese, and a few grade schools, too. In addition to parish and school duties, Father McCarthy was a high school athletics referee for 50 years. “I asked ‘Why do you referee,’ ” Father Richards said. “He said ‘So I can be there among the people and be there among the youth.’ “I’ve met people that ‘The reason why I am Catholic is that Fr. Don was a referee while I was wrestling or while I was playing football’ … I had many who told me that.”
Father Richards reflected on the readings from the Mass. The first reading was Isaiah 61:1-3: “God has sent me to bring good news to the afflicted.” “A priest’s job is to proclaim the good news to the people,” Father Richards said. “Especially to let people who are lost, who have forgotten, who have never found the hope of God … to let them see God’s hope. “Father Don preached the message of hope. He was a hopeful priest.”
The second reading was 1 Peter 5:1-4, which is often read at the ordination of priests, and encourages the listener to “tend the flock.” “That part of being a priest, Father Don got. He understood the giving nature of the priesthood, that we are there to serve others. He understood that and worked very hard at living it out,” Father Richards said.
He pointed out Father McCarthy was known for potluck dinners, and the congregation chuckled. “Everybody laughs and jokes that he loves to eat and that it was the food he came for, but it wasn’t,” Father Richards said. “It was the people. That’s what he wanted to be a part of. “The thing that Father Don knew was that a priest should be out among the people. He knew the best way to get them to church was to go out among them first.”
The Gospel was Luke 12:35-44. The first portion is from the funeral rite, and the second is again from ordinations: “Blessed are those servants whom the master finds vigilant on his arrival.” “That’s Father Don. He was working up until a month before he died,” Father Richards said, adding that Father McCarthy con-celebrated a funeral the day he was hospitalized for pneumonia. “I visited him in the hospital, and his big worry was ‘Who is going to cover Mount St. Joseph? I gotta get over there, I can’t be sick, I have work to do.’ ”
Father Richards said there was an audible gasp the next morning at Mass when he announced Father McCarthy’s death. “He was a master of deflecting attention away from himself. He would say “Enough about me, what about you?’ ” Father Richards said. “That’s the reason his death caught us all off guard. He would always downplay just how sick he really was. He wasn’t going to bother us, let us in on those details. “But that focusing of attention on the other person — that’s another part of being a good priest.”
Father Richards continued that Father McCarthy also knew the importance of developing and deepening his interior life, so that he might share it with others. “You have to have faith in God in order to convey faith in God. You have to have hope in eternal life if you’re going to give people hope of eternal life. That’s essential in the priesthood,” he said. “Father Don had that faith. Father Don showed that hope.”