Pope John Paul II appointed John McCarthy the Bishop of Austin, Texas, in 1985, where he served for fifteen years until his retirement from that office. During his tenure, explosive growth in central Texas included enormous growth within the diocese, adding over twenty new parishes (which brought the total to around 125.) In addition to his local commitments, Bishop McCarthy remained very active in the National Bishops' Catholic Conference, but his principle interest was relief services in the "Third World." Bishop McCarthy is best known for his inclusive, ecumenical approach, his humor, and his consistent focus on service. McCarthy was ordained as a Roman Catholic priest in 1956, and his vocation has included not only serving as a parish priest, but also extensive work in the Catholic Social Action Department, which sparked his life-long passion for social ministries.
As a pastor, McCarthy was concerned by the fact that while every parish had organized programs on worship and education, they did not necessarily gave anything structured to address local social needs-and he has always believed that the nature of the parish is to make "Jesus present at this particular place, in this particular time." McCarthy likes to break down the work of Jesus into three categories-worship, teaching and the lessening of pain. Therefore he considers a parish to be incomplete if it did not have a defined, structured and funded social component. McCarthy carried this belief forward throughout his ministry.
The Bishops of Texas asked for him to be released from his local parish to lead the Texas Catholic Conference (TCC), where for seven years he coordinated the activities of the 11 dioceses in Texas, making the TCC the largest state conference in the nation.
McCarthy was then appointed by Pope John Paul II to be the Auxiliary Bishop of the Diocese of Houston and Galveston, where he spent the next seven years. His special interests remained in the world of ecumenism, communications and the development of social ministry in the approximately 150 parishes in the diocese.
Since becoming the "Bishop Emeritus," McCarthy has continued to maintain a consistently overflowing calendar- leading retreats, hosting charity events, offering lectures, celebrating masses, and writing his daily blog. He is always looking out for the "little guy" and focuses his life on "the lessening of pain."