Firefighter, painter finds inspiration in the Lord

By Alicja Pozywio | Staff writer
Sunday, April 22, 2012

Tim McCarthy, an artist and Chicago firefighter, works on an sketch for an upcoming project at his studio in Evergreen Park on March 27. (Karen Callaway / Catholic New World)

Coziness and warmth envelop you as soon as you cross the threshold into Tim McCarthy’s art gallery, 3354 W. 95th St. in Evergreen Park.

The walls are covered with Mc- Carthy’s paintings. Nature scenes often hide a country church or a roadside cross, and familiar neighborhoods include churches and schools. There are deep and rich watercolors of the Irish countryside and of Chicago architectural landmarks.

McCarthy discovered he could paint when he was a boy.

“My mom is an artist. When I was a kid I used to pretend I was sick so I could stay home, sit on her lap and watch her draw,” he said.

Painting is only one of McCarthy’s passions. He is also a Chicago firefighter, recently promoted to lieutenant, as well as a soccer coach at St. Rita High School. However, what he values the most is being a husband and a father.

“Every day I say I’m so blessed because I have three children and a wonderful wife,” said McCarthy about his wife, Susan, and children Timmy, 14; Adam, 12; and Lillian, 10.

St. Rita influenced

A parishioner at St. John Fisher, 10235 S. Fairfield Ave, McCarthy was influenced for many years by St. Rita Parish, school and the saint herself. After graduating from St. Rita High School in 1985, he attended the University of Illinois and earned a degree in fine arts in 1989. About a year later, he was hired as director of public relations and assistant director of development at St. Rita, where he also coached soccer.

“I didn’t realize St. Rita was in my life when I was a child,” he said. Both his grandparents went to St. Rita School. So, for a while, did his father, who also sent three of his sons there.

“Years later I noticed that the picture which always had been in my grand mamma’s house with a woman in a veil was a picture of St. Rita.”

But that isn’t the end the story of St. Rita’s influence.

“My father was born on the feast of St. Rita, and my parents got married on this same feast years later,” said McCarthy who himself got married at the St. Rita Chapel. “How could she not be my favorite saint?”

He likes St. Rita because despite tough times in her life she didn’t turn away from God, but deepened her faith. So, it is not a surprise that his oldest son, Timmy, goes to St. Rita School.

Dream come true

In 1996, McCarthy opened his heart to an old dream and became a Chicago firefighter and a member of Truck Company 41 on the South Side.

“I love the fire department. We really are doing God’s will and there is no better place to do it than here,” said McCarthy. “It is a bunch of guys who are the greatest people on the earth — they are hardworking, family people, they would do anything for anybody.”

Faith helps in this job, he said, “especially at moments when we put our lives at risk.”

McCarthy recalls one situation a few years ago, when his firefighter friends were on the roof of a building being consumed by 50-foot flames.

He and his colleagues got everyone off the roof. After that, “the chief told us to find a hydrant a block away. He was basically giving us a break to get our thoughts together. At that moment I thanked God that we would be going home to see our families,” said McCarthy.

Similar to his father, who was a bricklayer, McCarthy builds houses and churches. The difference is that he uses brushes and paints instead of bricks. There are about 150 churches among his paintings.

“I started out by doing portraits of houses and then somebody asked me to do a church and I did it and then I did another one and so it went,” said McCarthy.

Asked what church was his first he smiled and said: St. Rita. That painting has been used for fundraising purposes.

Another is the painting of St. Thomas More Church. “They sold it framed, unframed, on T-shirts. They made some money,” said McCarthy.

Among the countless number of paintings are a few McCarthy feels special about. One of them is called “Joseph” and is a portrait of Cardinal Bernardin. It was created not only in honor of the cardinal, but also in honor of McCarthy’s father, whose name was also Joseph.

“My father worked until the Wednesday before he died. He was carrying his heavy bag with tools. Cardinal Bernardin did the same thing — he worked to the very end,” said McCarthy.

“Solitary Moment” is McCarthy’s other favorite painting. It is of the moment after Communion. “I love the quiet time every week, just for those couple of moments when I get to bow my head,” he said. “It is my moment with God.”