Fr. Ray Carey, 1970
Fr. Ray Carey, 1970
His family had just moved from Ohio to Oregon when young Ray Carey befriended a boy who’d had a dodgy upbringing. People called this new pal a juvenile delinquent.

One evening after family supper, Ray’s mother asked him to wash dishes with her. Hands in suds, she began to speak and he figured she’d order him to stay away from the troublemaker. Instead, she urged Ray to tell the lad he was always welcome in the Carey home.

“We have such a blessed family, we owe him that experience,” she said.

It was a definitive moment for the future priest. And his friend, the former ne’er-do-well, cleaned up his act and attended Father Carey’s ordination on Aug. 15, 1970.

But a priest’s story of human development does not end on ordination day.

“I had a wonderful family, great parents and a vague notion of wanting to be of service to people in the name of Jesus. And I had great teachers at Mount Angel,” said Father Carey, an internationally known clinical psychologist and speaker. “But really my vocation story started after I got ordained.”

His priesthood took shape amid the excitement and wisdom that emerged from the Second Vatican Council. And his vocation got nourished by the mentoring of older priests like Fathers Emmet Harrington, Bert Griffin, Vince Cunniff, Frank Kennard and Ed Bliven.

“They taught me to have a real focus on the people of God and to listen to the people,” said Father Carey. “The seminary does its best, but the people will teach you how to be a priest.”

Father Carey had delayed his ordination because as the time drew near he felt ill-prepared to counsel parishioners. He told Archbishop Robert Dwyer that without more training he would be guilty of “pastoral malpractice.” The archbishop agreed to send the candid seminarian to the University of Oregon for a master’s in counseling and later urged Father Carey to obtain a doctorate in clinical psychology.

A few years later, Archbishop Cornelius Power asked him to look to the wider church, and he did. He has counseled priests, religious, seminarians and laity in every state, every Canadian province and in many other countries. He’s the go-to man for bishops who want to heal wounded ministers.

Father Carey has never said no to a priest in need and has never had to charge anyone for counseling. He knows many secrets about many people. He jokes that if he begins to show signs of dementia, it’s time to call in Vinnie the Chin.

Father Carey teaches counseling at Mount Angel Seminary, making sure today’s priests get better preparation than he did.

He also is known for sounding alarms about clericalism. “I deeply hate any notion of privilege or entitlement or special status,” he said.

The real privileges of priesthood, he explained, include celebrating the sacraments and preaching. He is known for telling seminarians and parish priests that their charism is preaching. His tip for good homilies comes from Jesus: “‘Make your home in my word’ and be as close to the heart of Christ as possible.”

His prayer life is richer than ever, with the Mass at the center and supported by the psalm-based Divine Office. He prays on planes, in taxis and in hotel lobbies.

“I have never celebrated anniversaries because I’ve always believed you make a fresh yes each day,” Father Carey said. “My enthusiasm for the Gospel, for Jesus Christ, for service, is stronger than it’s ever been.”