Citizen Staff Writer
RENÉE SCHAFER HORTON
Bernard L. Fontana remembers a number of things about the Rev. Kieran McCarty.
He remembers his Irish wit, his encyclopedic knowledge of the Spanish colonial period, and that the Franciscan priest liked a good cigar, a good pipe and a good martini.
But mostly he remembers that the Rev. McCarty, who died Saturday at 83, cheered up everyone he came in contact with.
“He was outgoing. He was genuine. He was just a wonderful guy to be around,” Fontana said. “You don’t see that in everyone.”
The Rev. McCarty had been living at the Villa Maria Care Center and used a wheelchair due to Parkinson’s disease, Fontana said.
The funeral service will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday at San Xavier Mission, where he was once the pastor.
An expert in Southwestern Spanish missions and Spanish colonialism, McCarty was the last living member of the international team of researchers who discovered the bones of Father Eusebio Francisco Kino, a 17th-century Jesuit priest credited with bringing Christianity to southern Arizona and the Sonoran region.
The Rev. McCarty served as a chaplain in the Arizona Air National Guard in the early 1960s and as superior to the San Xavier Mission friars from 1966 to 1971. He taught and conducted research at the University of Arizona.
Marco Jerez, an adjunct professor of Spanish and Portuguese at UA, called McCarty “my second father,” and credited the priest-historian with shining a light on the historical origins of the Sonoran region.
“The difference between men and animals is that we have memories, we have history,” said Jerez, who was mentored by the Rev. McCarty early in Jerez’s UA career. “He was like an encyclopedia with this information. Spending one hour in conversation with him was like reading 20 books.”
“He, along with the late James Officer and Father Charles Polzer, did more than anyone else to bring to the fore our Spanish and Mexican roots in an academic sense,” Fontana said. “They are the ones who wrote the books and examined the historical underpinnings. They were the champions.”
One of the Rev. McCarty’s most notable research achievements was participating in the 1966 discovery of a skeleton identified as belonging to Father Kino in Magdalena de Kino, Son.
The Rev. McCarty’s research is credited with leading the team of historians and archaelogists to the city, about 50 miles south of Nogales, in search of Kino’s remains.
The Rev. McCarty was born in Iowa and raised in Santa Barbara, Calif. He was ordained a Roman Catholic priest in 1949 and died on the 59th anniversary of his ordination.
He received his doctorate in history from the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., focusing his research on the Franciscan order’s origins in the Arizona-Sonora region.
He wrote numerous books, including “Desert Documentary: The Spanish Years, 1767-1821,” and “A Frontier Commentary: Sonora and Tucson, 1821-1848.”
Fontana said the Rev. McCarty chafed at having to live in an assisted living facility.
“He loved his independence,” Fontana said, recalling that the priest earned his pilot’s license years ago and bought a small plane with another Franciscan priest.
“I think it cost all of $1,300 and I was his first passenger,” Fontana said. “He called it the flying anchor, which didn’t engender a lot of confidence in me, but we had a good time.”
Jerez said the Rev. McCarty illustrated the characteristics of a great man.
“He had all the passion and memory and knowledge combined with the wisdom and humility that makes great men,” Jerez said. “It is a great loss that he is gone. He was my teacher in one class long ago, but he was my teacher in life.”