Dean Letter: Interview with Dean Jim

Hello St. Paul’s,

Many of you know our beloved first cathedral dean, the Very Rev. James E. Carroll. Jim is part of our congregational history, and still going strong in his 90’s. I was looking forward to interviewing him this week via Zoom, but unfortunately technical issues ensued. However, luckily for us, Jim’s son John is a TV professional, and he graciously agreed to ask Jim my questions and capture the conversation on camera. I hope you enjoy watching or reading it as much as I did.

See you on Sunday!

Your sister in Christ,


Interview of the Very Rev. James E. Carroll, first Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral, by his son John Carroll, February 21, 2021.

John:   Tell us about your call to serve St. Paul’s.

Dean Carroll:  Well, the call is an interesting series of events, from the time I was a young acolyte at the old St. Paul’s on C Street, downtown San Diego. And then, years later, after ordination, I was asked if I was interested in becoming Rector of St. Paul’s. And I thought, all right, why not? I expressed some interest. But then I had been called to be dean of the cathedral in Chicago, which was a high calling, and grateful to be asked to do it. No way could I leave that to go back to my own parish. Then two years later, St. Paul’s was searching again. And the Bishop of San Diego, Bob Wolterstorff, once again, asked if I would be interested. This time I was. Some people from St. Paul’s talk to me came to see me. And it progressed to the point where they were ready to issue me a call to be rector of the parish, and in the background, fashioning St. Paul’s to become the Cathedral of the new Diocese of San Diego. So while many people say you can’t go home, and I took that seriously, I did go home. And I became Rector and we began to establish guidelines for it to be what the Union Tribune called the first Protestant Cathedral in San Diego. And that actually happened, and I believe the year was 1951 [sic].

After I had been there a few years Bishop Brinkley Morton, who had come from a cathedral in Alabama, thought we should have that kind of symbolic ministry in San Diego. So he and I appointed a committee that met for almost a year to delineate our design and what we were trying to achieve. So that was expressed in real life history on January 25 1985. We had messages from the governor, the mayor of the city and the Archbishop of Canterbury, and we dissolved as a parish and were reconstituted as the Cathedral Church. Cathedrals are important in the Anglican tradition, and other traditions as well, but mostly in the western Catholic tradition in Europe, the medieval church of Rome, and skipping over the channel to England and Scotland, where cathedrals were the places where the bishops concentrated their ministry and their teaching. When the bishop sat to teach, the chair was called the cathedra. And the bishop sat as ancient rabbis always sat while teaching, in an authoritative way. So, as many people know, the famous cathedrals in England, such as Canterbury, New York and Chichester and so forth, were at one time Abbey churches until after the Reformation, when the abbeys became cathedrals and the church in England became the Church of England.


John:   What do you remember about the process leading up to St. Paul’s Cathedral becoming the cathedral? (You already said some of that.) Do you want to say any more about that?

Dean Carroll:  Well, the process began with Brinkley Morton, the bishop, and myself selecting a committee that met weekly for several months. And in that process, we wrote American Cathedral Deans to ask for their canons and constitutions, and what they had to do to really reform and remake that image. And we were supported by good friends in Washington, Seattle, Los Angeles, San Francisco and elsewhere. And out of those responses, we refashioned our own canons. For example, the vestry became a chapter and the vestry wardens were joined by a lay person, who was not a member of the cathedral, who became the bishop’s warden. So the bishop always had a hand in the ongoing ministry of the cathedral. We also made it our goal to be leaders in stewardship in the  diocese, and not to fall behind on our mission pledge. And we did quite well with that, in competition with a couple of other large parishes. We felt good about that. And we also were determined to fashion a liturgical tradition that would be drawing on the best of the Anglican Communion, and on the needs of the American church. And I had a good staff, beginning with Alden Franklin, and a few others as the years went on, to fulfill that role as it as it does to this day.


John:   What kind of ceremony did you use [to institute the church as a Cathedral]?

Dean Carroll:  The ceremony we used when I was instituted is from the Book of Common Prayer, it’s called the Institution of Ministers. And so in the celebration of the Eucharist, and the new Rector or the Dean, in this case, pronounces the final blessing, instead of the bishop; he does that after he makes an oath of office, which we take very seriously, as I did.

One [memorable] event, obviously, as some of you know, was the royal visit in February 1983, when the British Consul General in Los Angeles telephoned us, and asked if the Queen could go to church at St. Paul’s …  and we said, well, yes, I think so. I appointed a committee to plan the Royal visit. That met for several months, from October, for a visit in February the following year. And in that committee, we discerned some of the issues, and the ceremonies and the right things you do with royalty. And it meant a lot to us, it was fine. We were photographed from all over the world: New York Times, it was on the cover of the London Times: they put me on the cover, and how else do you get on the cover of the London Times? So that was a high point of my ministry.

The only low points were when we became friendly with the surrounding community, many of whom are gay persons, and we welcomed them into our fellowship; and I remember that two gentlemen of the parish came in to complain, and that disturbed me greatly, but we were unmoved and we continued to be inclusive, all embracing the gay people in the LGBTQ zone as many of you are familiar with.


John:   How has St Paul’s Cathedral mission and ministry changed since becoming a cathedral, and on from that, under successive deans?

Dean Carroll: The mission and ministry of St. Paul’s changed, not in a radical direction, but in a gradual assent to the meaning of inclusivity. And the fact that we live almost on the Mexican border, and that we had a responsibility to minister to Latinos. We actually started a Spanish-speaking Mass once a month, and that gradually grew to every Sunday at a particular hour. That was a definitive change, not pleasing to everybody, but certainly in accordance with the gospel demand to go into all nations. Also, we considered ourselves to be open and inclusive of whoever entered our doors. And we dealt with the issue of who could receive Communion and who couldn’t, which has been an ongoing interior struggle in the Episcopal Church and other churches as well. And we addressed that issue with care and, and compassion as we went forward, and it’s even to this day that we say it.

John: What’s your favorite memory of your ministry at St. Paul’s Cathedral?

Dean Carroll:  Well, my favorite memory of course was the royal visit. And to this day, the pictures of the Queen entering St. Paul’s on my arm, and leaving St. Paul’s after the service, they’re everywhere. When I was a patient in the hospital my wife brought those pictures into my room. And the nurses went gaga over the fact that they had the Queen in my hospital room. So after a while, I said the Queen was fired and she should take them home. But that was the high point. The other high points would be the influx of people looking for God’s word, fearlessly proclaimed, but in love, especially with the HIV AIDS crisis; every Sunday in intercessory prayer, we prayed for those battling HIV AIDS throughout the world and the international crisis; we took a little flak for that. But it was a commitment in prayer, to what eventually was engaged in by our own country, and is still being engaged to this day, partially because of the witness of people like St. Paul’s Cathedral and others, expressing God’s love to those suffering from a worldwide crisis.

John:   For sure, and then there was the one thing where the guy, oh dear,  I’m forgetting his name; he was the owner of some big gay bar in town and he died and the Roman Catholic Diocese would not allow him to be buried out of St. Joseph Cathedral or any other places. And they came to you; do you remember that?

Dean Carroll:  Yeah, that’s a difficult issue. But I, I could address it. And I don’t remember the name. I forget his name too. … Well, some of you may be interested in an event several years before I retired, when a prominent Roman Catholic family was denied a burial in a Catholic cemetery because the deceased had been a gay person, and I think, had died of complications due to AIDS and it rattled that family. So I stepped out with care, and invited the family into St. Paul’s. And we gave the young man Christian burial in consecrated ground. And we felt good about that, and got no feedback from the Roman Catholic officials, because I think they knew what had to be done.

John:   Finally, what is your dream for St. Paul’s Cathedral?

Dean Carroll:  The dream I have for St. Paul’s, having retired some 26 years ago, is that it will continue as a leader of the diocese in terms of stewardship and mission and set an example in worship, pastoral care, and willingness to stand up for truth in a prophetic manner, truth in the face of falsehood; and love in the face of alienation. A Cathedral Church can do that with more strength than others. And my dream for St. Paul’s Cathedral is to continue in that kind of witness.

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4 thoughts on “Dean Letter: Interview with Dean Jim”

  1. How joyful it is to have this interview made available for our reflection and remembering. Dean Carroll is a treasure and much beloved and I consider myself blessed to have been the recipient of his wonderful ministry. He is a true treasure of the cathedral.

  2. He welcomed us LGBT people and stood by us when we formed an Integrity chapter. During the AIDS crisis when we were praying people afflicted with the disease, he encouraged Integrity to continue its visits to AIDS hospices and viewed us as a vital ministry. He did indeed take flak for his stance (as did others of us in Integrity) but we worked together nevertheless. They were tough times for us but we gay people at St Paul’s knew that he had our back.

  3. He welcomed us LGBT people and stood by us when we formed an Integrity chapter. During the AIDS crisis when we were praying people afflicted with the disease, he encouraged Integrity to continue its visits to AIDS hospices and viewed us as a vital ministry. They were tough times for us but we gay people at St Paul’s knew that he had our back.

  4. Thank you so much Dean Penny for share this wonderful interview!
    What honorable and venerable elder man, the Very Rev. James, what experience and testimony, and what interesting everything that he has told us about St. Paul’s Cathedral’s history.
    The pillar of our Cathedral Deans!
    Let me include him in my prayer.
    God bless with health his testified ministry, and bless his family.



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