Sedona CALLAHAN, Writer
Monterey County Herald
By Sedona Callahan
Father Scott McCarthy's home is filled with his beloved books, art and artifacts of the native people of the American continent. His head is filled with ideas on the spiritual practices of Native Americans, about which he has written his books, and his heart is filled with the love he has for all native people, but especially, for those he calls "mom" and "dad" and his adoptive Crow family.
McCarthy was born in London, England of Irish and Scot parents, but emigrated to Toronto, Ontario, Canada when he was ten years old. It was in Toronto he had his first exposure to native Americans. "I knew of Indians, but didn't know any. But I read books and saw films and that sparked my interest," says McCarthy. "Through scouting I got into crafts and arts of Indians. I was living close to nature, with four seasons. The nearby tribe was the Iroquois, and I went to various events and met Iroquois people." McCarthy recalls being invited to the Iroquois reserve to have dinner with Iroquois friends. "I remember a really good dinner with smelts, a corn chowder and corn on the cob. I was happy I was eating in an Indian house." McCarthy continued his learning by visiting museums and libraries.
Today he is pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in Carmel Valley. He also serves as leader of the diocesan Native American Ministry, and has published "Celebrating the Earth: An Earth-Centered Theology of Worship with Blessings, Prayers and Rituals". Waiting in the wings for publication is "People of the Circle, People of the Four Directions", a book relating to the spiritual ways of both native peoples of the Americas and of those who have heritages emanating from Europe and other places in the world.
McCarthy has blended his dual passions in spiritual matters and native peoples through outreach programs and service to Indians. He describes the route that took him to the Crow nation in Montana, and to his adoptive parents. "I visited the Crows fifteen years ago, when I picked up a hitchhiker," says McCarthy. "He invited me to attend the Crow Fair, where I met a lot of people. Then after the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989, some items were donated for native American people, specifically. I was able to bring things to the Crows - a church organ, a large supply of oatmeal, clothing. I drove out to the Catholic Church at Pryor, Montana, where the Capuchin Franciscans who work with the Crows were. After dropping off the things, I wanted to see this couple I had met on a previous trip. To get to where they live, you have to drive out through these fields that were irrigated to the point that the roads were full of water. I got stuck, and they had to pull me out with a truck. "Sarah and Irvin (Stuart, McCarthy's adoptive parents) invited me into their kitchen, and while Sarah made the coffee, she said, 'Father Scott, next time you come out, I'm going to adopt you.' Irvin agreed with her."
It was a couple of years before the adopting ceremony took place, but McCarthy and his adopting family kept in touch with each other through phone calls and visits.
In 1990, McCarthy took a sabbatical on the Crow Nation, taking community college courses in Crow culture, music and art. After finishing his sabbatical, he returned to his home in Castroville, where he was then pastor of Our Lady of Refuge Catholic Church. Immediately, he was called to return to the Crow Fair where he was to be adopted at a public ceremony.
"The usual way an adoption occurs is at a Crow pow-wow, where everything is in the Crow language," says McCarthy. "The families and relatives bring huge plastic bags of things and lay them out. Those things might be blankets, Tupperware, whatever. An announcer sings the praises of the adoptee and everyone listens. Then they do a give-away, where everyone receives a gift. After that, there's a dance with four warriors dancing in a ring. They grab the adoptee and take him within the dance. They are hunters, so they hunt and capture him. Then the family dances, with the parents, brothers and sisters on the two sides of the adoptee and everyone else behind."
Although, because of some scheduling difficulties, McCarthy's adoption didn't follow the usual method, he was adopted with family and community elders present for a feast and formal talk. "There were people there visiting from the Smithsonian Institute taking notes on Crow culture, and people from German Public Television were filming, so they all came running over and recorded the ceremony," recalls McCarthy. "The announcer spoke about me in Crow and English. Then he took ashes from the fire and ground bear-root and smudged me," he says, describing the practice of burning aromatic grasses, herbs and other natural earth products and wafting the smoke over the adoptee. "Then I was given the name of a man who was a hero in World War II in the South Pacific. It was a name that summed up his experiences, 'Outstanding Warrior'. For me, I'm a pacifist, but I take it (the name) as fighting against ignorance and prejudice. It's a gift of his goodness and holy power, and for me it's a great honor to receive it." After the naming, McCarthy's new parents gave him blankets and some cash to give to the man he was named for.
After returning from Montana to his parish, then in Castroville, McCarthy began incorporating some aspects of native religious practices in his more traditional Catholic services. "I met an elderly medicine woman, Bernice Torres, at a pow-wow in Salinas. She was a Pomo singer, and has since passed away. I invited her to dance with me. She said, 'I don't know if I'm dancing with the devil or an angel.' I told her 'you're probably dancing with the devil right now.' She laughed, and later came to have discussions with me." After McCarthy moved to his present pastoral position in Carmel Valley, Torres visited him on a trip to the upper end of the valley. "It was just before Easter and I invited her to come back and sing a song about new life during the Easter Mass." McCarthy says. "We were packed for Easter. She had a cocoon rattle on a stick. It's a new-life rattle, from a branch of a tree, with a very gentle sound. She wore her long dress and Pomo jewelry. In a booming voice, she sang about new life, from her tradition."
"Within the last year there was an event honoring her," McCarthy continues. "She called to make sure I was coming. When I arrived she pointed me out and started telling about me, saying I was helping her. That was such an honor for me."
McCarthy sometimes incorporates native spiritual practices into his Catholic ritual, performing common blessing ceremonies with cedar or sage and feathers. Sometimes he performs these ceremonies at all-Indian events. He has participated in funeral ceremonies and memorials, and has been invited to family events, local ceremonial feasts and at times is asked to bless the food. He is also frequently invited to participate at pow-wows. "I was invited to a lot of intertribal events of various cultures, and people started recommending me to other people," he says.
"I'm not Indian," McCarthy explains. "I don't pretend to be. I honor Indian people, and try to help people from my culture understand. Being a priest, I get hooked into it a lot quicker because I give spiritual service."
© 1997 Sedona Callahan