Canon Grant S. Carey was known for his vast knowledge Episcopal Church history and a love of drama that enabled him to impart the gospel to people of various ages and backgrounds during his four decades as a priest at Sacramento’s Trinity Episcopal Cathedral.
He also taught for more than 20 years at Sacramento City College, where he developed the college’s English as a second language program as the Sacramento area welcomed an influx of immigrants from Vietnam in the 1970s.
Carey, who had been in failing health, died Feb. 21 in Sacramento, said his niece Diana Bedoian. He was 91.
“Grant had a great love for the liturgy and worship of the Episcopal Church,” said Don Brown, dean emeritus of Trinity Cathedral. “I gave him the title of Canon of Liturgy. He planned most of the services. When you’re sitting in the congregation, it all looks so easy, but hours go into planning services.”
Canon Lynell Walker, who currently fills that role at Trinity Cathedral, recalled working with Carey when she was a seminary student.
“He was a wonderful teacher and mentor … He could explain why it is we do things the way we do,” she said.
Carey was a natural in the role, Walker said, noting that “liturgy is really storytelling. Everything, from coordinating the music and even the colors of the flowers, or the stark absence of flowers – it’s about creating the set for telling the gospel story.”
Brown and Walker described Carey as a man who was sensitive to the needs of individuals and the community.
“When you came into his office and sat down, he pivoted in his chair and you were the only focus of his attention,” Walker said “He dropped whatever he was doing to help people who needed him.”
Brown recalled that he was out of town when Princess Diana died in 1997, and Carey began getting calls from the news media asking whether Trinity Cathedral was going to have a memorial service. Carey, Brown said, went out on limb and replied, “Of course we’ll have a service.”
About 500 people filled the Cathedral and several hundred more were gathered outside.
“If something needed to happen in terms of the community, he was there to plan and advocate for it,” Brown said.
Grant S. Carey was born Nov. 11, 1925, in Oakland to Grant Spray Carey and Mildred Belle Perlet Carey. He had an older half-brother, Robert Grimm. Carey’s grandfather, Herman Perlet, conducted the Peoples’ Philharmonic Orchestra of San Francisco and his grandmother, whose stage name was Belle Thorne, got her start as an opera singer in San Francisco and later performed in Gilbert and Sullivan operettas on the East Coast in the 1890s.
During the Depression, Carey moved with his family to Auburn, where his father had been offered a job with a lumber company.
Carey, in an autobiographical sketch, “The Days of My Life,” written in 2007, recalled that he suffered a case a rheumatic fever in 1939, causing him to miss much of his freshman year of high school, and his high school years were further disrupted by World War II. After the first semester of his senior year, he was allowed to enroll in junior college.
“By that time, many of my former classmates were in the armed services, but I had been classified 4-F. For a strapping young man who appeared strong and healthy, this proved a great embarrassment,” he wrote.
Carey decided to follow in the footsteps of a family friend who was a funeral director. In the spring of 1944, at age 19, Carey became the youngest student to enroll at the San Francisco College of Mortuary Science. He passed the state boards and was hired as an apprentice in Lodi. The job involved driving the hearse, which also doubled as an ambulance.
“All of this proved invaluable in my later life because I learned how to relate to people, especially in crisis, as well as how to make do with very little,” Carey wrote.
He later returned to college. After graduating, he taught for a semester at both Placer High School and Placer Junior College, now Sierra Community College, before accepting a position at San Juan High School in Citrus Heights. There he taught Spanish, English, drama, public speaking and stage craft.
Carey entered the U.S. Army during the Korean War, serving as a medical services officer at Fort Lewis in Washington and then with the First Cavalry Division in Japan. While in Japan he was called upon by his commanding officer to assist with Episcopal services in the post chapel, and he worked with members of the Episcopal clergy in Japan. While serving in Japan, he applied to the Church Divinity School of the Pacific in Berkeley, and his commanding officer allowed him to be discharged from the Army three months early so he could enter seminary with the class of 1955. He earned a master’s of divinity and was ordained in January 1958. In 2007, his alma mater presented him with an honorary doctorate.
When you came into his office and sat down, he pivoted in his chair and you were the only focus of his attention. He dropped whatever he was doing to help people who needed him.
Canon Lynell Walker
Bedoian recalled her excitement as a 10-year-old witnessing her uncle’s ordination. “He was almost larger than life to me … I told my friend, ‘My uncle can marry people. Even the school principal can’t do that.’ ”
At his ordination, Carey took a vow of celibacy. Although such a vow is optional in the Episcopal Church, Carey’s longtime friend David Warren said Carey noted that the Apostle Paul was not married and he wanted to follow his example.
Carey was assigned to serve as vicar of Saint John’s Church in the Lake County community of Lakeport. He left Lakeport in 1962 to become chaplain and later headmaster of Colegio San Justo, a boys school in Puerto Rico. Students came to the school from throughout the Caribbean region. Carey left in 1968 due to political unrest in the area.
Returning to California, he enrolled at California State University, Sacramento, pursuing a credential in educational counseling. His goal was to apply for a position as chaplain at an Episcopal college, but no positions were available when he completed the program.
Warren, a fellow student in the program, was teaching at Sacramento City College, and when an English instructor died shortly after the school year began, he recommended Carey for the post. In 1974, Carey, who was fluent in Spanish, was tapped to develop the English as a second language, or ESL, program, to which he devoted most of his teaching career.
“He was very, very patient and very concerned about his students,” said John Ruden, a longtime friend and member of the college’s English faculty. “He always admired them as hardworking, bright people.”
During that time, Carey was employed part time at Trinity Cathedral. Upon retiring from the college in 1992, he became a full-time priest.
“The most important thing to him was his church. That was his life,” Bedoian said.
When he wasn’t engaged in his clerical duties, Carey often could be spotted at theatrical performances or concerts.
“He was a patron of the arts,” his niece said, noting that he had season tickets for the Mondavi Center, the B Street Theatre, the symphony, the Music Circus and more. He and friends took in performances in the Bay Area and were regulars at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
Carey loved to travel and took his mother with him on several trips in her latter years. He made 17 trips to England and took courses at Oxford University, Bedoian said.
Carey also delighted in crossword puzzles, and was a great fan of the “Peanuts” comic strip and its creator, Charles Schulz, who was also an Episcopalian. Bedoian noted that Schulz gave her uncle a book of his “Peanuts” cartoons and a drew a picture of Snoopy on it.
Although Carey handed off many of his duties to another canon in 2006, “he never really retired. He just slowed down,” Bedoian said. He remained the go-to person for church history and doctrine, as well as the history behind each of Trinity Cathedral’s stained glass windows.
“He taught the newcomers class from his wheelchair,” Bedoian said.
In addition to Bedoian of Arizona, Carey is survived by niece Susan Filbrun of Modesto.
A memorial service for Carey will be held at 5 p.m. April 8 at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, 2620 Capitol Ave., Sacramento.