The Rev. Neil McCaulley was known for penning passionate letters to the editor, inciting debates that played out on the pages of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
His friends and family knew his smaller gestures, too, such as driving to Half Price Books, hauling a load of books into cardboard boxes in his car and stacking the books in the back of the church in hopes that his parishioners would take one and be inspired to learn more.
The longtime Roman Catholic priest, who would sometimes break out in song during homilies and whose views supporting the ordination of woman and married men made some bristle, died late Saturday at UPMC Mercy of congestive heart failure and systemic infection. He was 74.
Born in 1939 in that same hospital, Father McCaulley graduated from Bethel Park High School and, as a teenager, received the calling to enter the priesthood, his cousin Barbara Hudson said.
He studied at seminaries in Cincinnati, Latrobe and Baltimore and was ordained on May 14, 1966.
His first assignment was as an assistant priest at St. Mary of the Mount Church on Mt. Washington. There, he met Sister Mary Theresa Leitem, whom he hired to work with him at other parishes throughout the region.
"He is a man for all seasons, and he is the most terrific man I've ever known," she said. "He judges no one. He takes everyone the way they are. That's his greatest gift."
Father McCaulley went on to serve at St. Alphonsus in Springdale, Immaculate Conception in Washington, Pa., and as a team pastor to rural parishes in northern Butler County.
Starting in 1980, he was president of the National Federation of Priests' Councils and lived in Chicago while traveling throughout the country.
In 1982, he returned to Pittsburgh and took an assignment at Nativity Parish on the North Side.
Two years later, he moved to St. Joseph Church in Port Vue with Sister Mary Theresa, focusing on teen ministry. There, he was credited with starting a food bank and obtaining a van to help transport parishioners to church.
Ms. Hudson called her cousin a scholar with a creative mind and a passion for social justice issues but also a grounded and compassionate pastor who made the Gospels accessible to his congregants.
A voracious reader, he completed a book about every four days and had bought 13,400 books in his lifetime, said the Rev. John Oesterle, a friend and the chaplain of UPMC Mercy.
After leaving St. Joseph, Father McCaulley and Sister Mary Theresa moved to St. Stephen Church in Hazelwood, where they worked for 16 years.
At 70, he retired, moved to Saint Mary's Parish, also known as Saint Mary of the Point, in Downtown and then to Epiphany Catholic Church in Uptown before settling in a Crafton retirement home for priests. He was a longtime member of the liberal Catholic group Association of Pittsburgh Priests.
In his final letter to the editor, published earlier this month in the Post-Gazette, Mr. McCaulley wrote in part: "There will be no new evangelization or 'church alive' without a drastic increase in the number of priests. The obvious answer that everyone speaks of is to ordain married men. The only ones who don't recognize this seem to be our bishops. It is about time for them to publicly demand the permission to do that from the Vatican. Pope Francis is open to the idea of collegiality. ... What are our bishops waiting for? For all the parishes to close?"
Father Oesterle said: "He wanted the church to include everybody, because Christ included everybody."
A viewing is scheduled from noon to 6 p.m. Wednesday at Edward P. Kanai Funeral Home, Greenfield. A second viewing will follow a 7 p.m. vespers service at St. Stephen, Hazelwood. A third, also at St. Stephen, is from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. Thursday. Mass will be celebrated at 10 a.m. that day, followed by a Christian burial.
Molly Born: email@example.com or 412-263-1944.