As a young man James Carroll, the Boston Globe columnist, author and former priest, stepped into his father’s shoes while studying at Georgetown University in Washington. For one summer, he was an FBI intern; his dad served in the FBI until 1948, at which point he was commissioned as an intelligence officer by the Air Force. One day the FBI interns were invited to a meet-and-greet with the U.S. attorney general.
At the meet-and-greet Carroll took his place in the receiving line until he got to shake hands with the attorney general, who asked him his name, where he was studying and what he planned to do in the future. Carroll told the attorney general that once his internship was over, he was going to a seminary to study for the priesthood.
The attorney general replied, “Get out in the streets with the Protestants, and fight for civil rights. We don’t have enough Catholics out there. The Protestants are taking the lead on this.”
The year was 1962. The attorney general was Robert Kennedy.
Hearing Kennedy speak about civil rights — and not anti-communism or any of a host of other issues — as the leading cause for the United States at that time “validated my calling,” Carroll recalled during a Sept. 30 symposium on Catholics and the media. “It showed me what I needed to do.”
Carroll served as a civil rights and a community organizer in Washington and New York. He left the priesthood in 1974, five years after his ordination, to become a writer.