Nicholas J. Carroll dies at age 87

Former Roman Catholic priest who became a civil rights specialist

August 06, 2010|By Frederick N. Rasmussen, The Baltimore Sun

Nicholas J. Carroll, a former civil rights specialist with the U.S. Department of Education whose life was defined by fighting for social justice, died July 30 of a heart attack at his Crofton home. He was 87.

Mr. Carroll, whose father was a purveyor of altar wine and mother was a homemaker, was born in Philadelphia and raised in Overbrook, Pa.

He attended Waldron Mercy Academy in Merion Station, Pa., and graduated in 1941 from St. Joseph's Preparatory School in Philadelphia.

The next year, Mr. Carroll entered the Society of Jesus Novitiate of St. Isaac Jogues at Wernersville, Pa.

After earning a degree in philosophy at Weston College, now part of Boston College, Mr. Carroll taught classical languages in Philadelphia and Washington.

He enrolled at Woodstock College in Baltimore County, where he earned a degree in theology and was ordained in 1954.

He was an associate pastor at the Roman Catholic Church of the Gesu in North Philadelphia and at St. Ignatius Roman Catholic Church in Baltimore.

From 1963 until 1968, he taught at Georgetown Preparatory School in Washington.

He left his order in 1969 to marry the former Elizabeth Ann Leonard, who had been a member of the School Sisters of Notre Dame.

Mrs. Carroll died in 1992.

While living in Bowie, Mr. Carroll worked from 1973 until retiring in 1993 as a civil rights specialist with the U.S. Department of Education in Washington.

Since 1993, Mr. Carroll had lived in Crofton.

"He was a longtime advocate of the rights of Third World people in the face of unjust aggression and in doing so traveled to Haiti, Nicaragua and several other countries," said a son, Nicholas J. Carroll Jr. of Lutherville.

Mr. Carroll was a prolific writer of letters to the editor and author of numerous op-ed page pieces regarding social justice and theological issues.

In 1993, as a member of Cry for Justice, Mr. Carroll traveled with about 100 Americans to Haiti in an attempt to halt human rights abuses.

"The economic and social injustices in Haiti have haunted me since I visited the country many years ago," Mr. Carroll told The Sun at the time.

In addition to the violence he found in Haiti, he was also overwhelmed by the crushing poverty he witnessed.

"It could have been a thousand years ago, watching people spend most of the day going up and down from a river with buckets on their heads to cook and wash and clean with," he said in a subsequent 1993 interview. "It was total Third World immersion. It made me realize it might do us good to live with much less."

"Everybody in Greater Catholic Baltimore, if not the nation, knew Nick Carroll," said Diane M. Caplin, director of the Mount St. Agnes Theological Center for Women in North Roland Park.

"He was one of our dear saints when it came to peace and justice and everything Vatican II stood for. He was a very loving and devoted individual," said Dr. Caplin.

"He was a sweet gentleman who had a very strong sense of being against injustice. He was glad to go to jail to make a point, and he did it with his great Irish wit and charm," she said.

In a 2005 letter to the editor of The Capital newspaper in Annapolis regarding the threat from the use of nuclear weapons, Mr. Carroll wrote that since " World War II the United States has intervened militarily 70 times in other nations."

"Instead of trying to eliminate this threat to life, we are headed in the opposite direction. Since World War II, every president has considered the use of nuclear weapons as a … policy option," he wrote.

"Did not the devout who elected George W. Bush deem salvation from nuclear holocaust a moral value? To not work for the elimination of these unspeakable weapons is to have a death wish."

Writing in The Sun in 2007 regarding the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Mr. Carroll suggested in a letter to the editor that "we have a right and a solemn duty to confess that the war and occupation have been a disaster. This humiliating loss is nothing less than we deserve and no one should deprive us of it."

He added that the basis of the invasion was to "satisfy our imperial hubris and greed for Middle Eastern oil," and that only when "we confess our national disgrace and try the top members of the Bush-Cheney administration for war crimes will we begin to atone for this stupidity and win back the respect of other nations."

The Rev. William Watters, pastor of St. Ignatius Roman Catholic Church, was an old friend.

"He was a wonderful man. He and his wife would always come to St. Ignatius for feast day celebrations and other events. I was always proud to welcome him to St. Ignatius," recalled Father Watters.

"He was an extraordinary and articulate guy who was interested in many issues such as war, peace, immigration and other injustices he saw," said Father Watters. "He was a wonderful person to discuss issues with because he had a clear mind and was a thinker who always brought a certain perspective to a discussion."

He added: "And as a former Jesuit, he still continued to carry its traditions."

Mr. Carroll had a special devotion to the Feast of the Epiphany, which celebrates the visit of the Three Wise Men with the newborn baby Jesus. "We would have an annual Epiphany party, and Nick always came. And here's a bit of irony: He was our own wise man," said Dr. Caplin.

Mr. Carroll willed his body to the Maryland Anatomy Board.

A memorial Mass will be offered at 10 a.m. Aug. 20 at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Roman Catholic Church, 1800 Seton Drive in Crofton.

Also surviving are another son, Timothy D. Carroll of Elkridge; a brother, Richard Carroll of Overbrook, Pa.; three sisters, Ruth Carroll of Overbrook, Miriam Carroll of St. Mary's, Kan., and Joan Eliason of Morrisville, Pa.; and two granddaughters.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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