Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Fr. James B. Curran, SDB

Fr. James B. Curran, SDB

Fr. James B. Curran, SDB, died in mid-afternoon on Sept. 3, 2012, at St. Anthony’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, Fla. He was still recovering from major surgery on Aug. 16. A short time prior to the surgery he had moved into the Salesians’ St. Philip the Apostle Residence in Tampa but was still a member of the community at St. Petersburg Catholic High School.
At the province jubilee celebration, 2009

James Brendan Curran was born at Annascaul (County Kerry), Ireland, on May 27, 1921, in the last days of the “Irish war for independence,” to James and Helen Kennedy Curran, and baptized the following day at the parish church of the Sacred Heart in Annascaul. According to a former student of Fr. Curran’s, Andrew MacKinlay—who remained a life-long friend—Kerry was a particularly “bloody area” after the Irish Free State was set up in 1922, including “internecine civil war.”

Young Jim attended the national primary school in Brackloon and continued his secondary studies from 1934-1935 at the Christian Brothers School, Dingle (Kerry).

Desiring to become a Salesian priest, in 1935 he entered the SDB aspirantate at Shrigley (Cheshire), England. He had to go to England because until 1972 the United Kingdom, Ireland, South Africa, and Malta formed a single SDB province.

Jim entered the novitiate with 20 other young men at Beckford (Gloucester) on Aug. 30, 1940. His novice master was the legendary Fr. James Simonetti, who held that position from 1905 to 1959. The socius (assistant novice master) was Fr. David de Burgh, who later had a short but distinguished career as a member of the U.S. Western Province and the faculty of Don Bosco College in Newton, N.J.

Bro. Curran made his first profession of vows at Beckford on Aug. 31, 1941. He did his philosophical and liberal arts studies at the SDB house of studies in Shrigley, and upon his graduation was sent to St. Patrick’s School in Sliema, Malta, for his practical training as a teacher and assistant.[1] Mr. MacKinlay describes a “perilous” sea voyage to reach the island fortress of the Mediterranean in December 1943 through “u-boat infested waters. It was a circuitous route the [ship] took...a long and hazardous journey.”

While in Malta Bro. Curran continued his studies and passed the London University Intermediate Arts Exam (the equivalent of an American associate’s degree). In 1946 he completed his bachelor of arts degree at London University, majoring in English, British and European history, and Latin.

Also at St. Patrick’s Bro. Curran professed perpetual vows on Aug. 14, 1947. Soon thereafter he started his study of theology at Shrigley (one year) and finished at Blaisdon Hall (Gloucester), where he was ordained on July 15, 1951,[2] by Bishop Joseph Rudderham of the Clifton Diocese.

Following his ordination, Fr. Curran was originally assigned to Capetown, South Africa, but his assignment was changed to Chertsey (Surrey), England, out of consideration for the advanced age of his mother. The school in Chertsey was a small boarding and day school, Fr. Curran taught there from 1951 to 1963, the last four years as headmaster (principal).

Mr. MacKinlay was a Chertsey student while Fr. Curran was headmaster. He writes that Father “was a great pastor and tutor to countless people in Malta, England and the United States. It was my privilege to have known him and been one of his students ... and to have shared and enjoyed his company” as recently as his trip to Ireland last summer for the 60th anniversary of his ordination.

Following a visit to Chicago, in 1963 Fr. Curran transferred from the Anglo-Irish Province to the New Rochelle Province. A few years later his Anglo-Irish friend Fr. Denis Kelleher followed his lead and came to America.

Fr. Curran’s first posting was as a teacher at Don Bosco Tech in Boston (1963-1966). During that time he also preached retreats and did vocation work at the SDB aspirantate in Ipswich, Mass.

In 1966-1967 he was the assistant vocation director for the New Rochelle Province and lived at the provincial residence. In 1967 he was sent to Salesian Preparatory School in Cedar Lake, Ind., as vocation director. The following year he was appointed director (religious superior) of the school and the SDB community; he served a six-year term. In 1970 he became an American citizen.
In September 2007 Fr. Jim welcomed Fr. Pascual Chavez, 9th successor of St. John Bosco, to Marrero, La.
Upon the completion of his directorship, he spent a sabbatical year (1974-1975) in Rome for continuing formation. On his return, he was appointed the provincial delegate for the Salesian Cooperators, serving until 1983. In this position he resided at the Marian Shrine and Retreat House in Haverstraw, N.Y., and in 1977 an additional charge as director of that SDB community was given to him. The Cooperators appreciated his pastoral care very much. In the words of one of them, Carol Verde, “He was a wonderful, loving man.”

From 1979 to 1983 Fr. Curran was director of Sacred Heart Retreat House in Ipswich, Mass.

In 1983 he began a new “career” as a parish priest. He was named pastor of St. Rosalie Church in Harvey, La., and served there for 12 years. As pastor he worked diligently with the Dominican nuns who staffed the parochial school and helped the school earn its first Blue Ribbon for Excellence from the federal Department of Education.

Continuing parish ministry, he was sent then to St. Kieran Church in Miami to serve especially the English-speaking parishioners, and a year later, in August 1996, he was appointed pastor. An appointment as pastor of St. Anthony Church in Paterson, N.J., followed in 1998.

In 2001, now 80 years old, Fr. Curran stepped down as a pastor but not as an active and zealous priest. He moved back to Florida, to the SDB community affiliated with St. Petersburg Catholic High School, where he was vice director of the community and a minister of the sacraments in the school.

That assignment lasted but a year. Ever flexible, he came to Corpus Christi Church in Port Chester, N.Y., as assistant pastor in 2002, and then relocated yet again in 2003, back to St. Rosalie Church in Harvey, where he carried out priestly ministry and also “puttered about the resurrected (and gloriously colorful) garden at the rectory and provid[ed] much needed companionship,” according to the Clarion Herald newspaper of the New Orleans Archdiocese. After seven more happy years in that parish—happy except for Hurricane Katrina, which he rode out with the other SDBs of the West Bank—he served for one year (2010-2011) at St. Philip Benizi Church in Belle Glade, Fla., as assistant pastor and vice director.

In the summer of 2011 Fr. Curran had the joyful opportunity to return to Ireland for several weeks to celebrate 60 years of priesthood with family and friends.
Fr. Jim in Ireland, 2011, with his good friends Andrew and Ruth MacKinlay (courtesy of Andrew MacKinlay)
In August 2011, now 90 years of age, Fr. Curran came once more to St. Petersburg, where he assisted with the celebration of Mass for the office staff at the diocesan chancery as well as serving the school community as a confessor from time to time. He enjoyed a visit with SDB friends in the North during July 2012, but his health had deteriorated noticeably. Thus in August he moved—temporarily, it was thought—into the SDB retirement community at St. Philip the Apostle.

Jill Stoner, a parishioner of St. Rosalie Church, recalled “Father Curran’s dry wit and learned homilies” that “only improved with age (like a fine wine)”; his “‘jolly good’ nature and sense of humor” that were much appreciated.
During the Rector Major's visit to Louisiana in 2007, Fr. Jim relished the chance to pose with a new statue of Mama Margaret Bosco outside St. Rosalie Church. With Bro. Tom Dion, Fr. Pascual Chavez, Fr Juan Jose Bartolome, Fr. Jim Heuser, Fr. Jim McKenna, and the late Fr. Jon Parks
Although Fr. Curran held no higher degree than his B.A., he spoke French, Italian, and Irish, and that learning to which Mrs. Stoner alluded earned him the affectionate title from his confreres of “Doctor Curran.” However humble and plain he was in his manner of life, he did seem to revel in this brotherly honorific.

The learning and the humility, among other qualities, are recalled by Fr. Curran’s grandnephew Thomas Casagranda in a letter, here slightly edited, to Fr. Mike Conway, director of the St. Petersburg SDB community:

Uncle Jimmy was a marvellous man, and our memories of him are undimmed and always in our hearts. I can remember his reading a book about Shakespeare. A theory had come out that Shakespeare was a closet Catholic. Uncle Jimmy said that, unfortunately, we cannot claim him as he had a wonderful knowledge of the [Anglican] Book of Common Prayer…. I can also remember our walking around Westminster Abbey, and me, as a 13-year-old, telling him that I wasn't allowed in as my Catholic headmaster would hit me for it: Uncle Jimmy told me not to be so ridiculous, that I should walk in and that Westminster Abbey was a great place to discover. He was correct in that respect.

Additionally, I can remember walking with Uncle Jimmy, around Westminster Cathedral, the Catholic cathedral in London, and a marvellous church outside Oxford called St Mary's, where Cardinal Newman was the vicar, prior to his conversion [to Catholicism]. I didn't pay much attention to it as a kid, but when older, and appreciative of Elgar, I grew to understand Newman's Dream of Gerontius, and knew just how far Uncle Jimmy was ahead of his time. 

There were also some wonderful trips down to Dorset, which Uncle Jimmy undertook with Fr Tom Brennan and my parents. Uncle Jimmy had a great love of Thomas Hardy, and viewed Dorset as Hardy country. I love Hardy too, but prefer his poems to his prose.

I can also remember some wonderful chats, as I got older, about Yeats and “The Lake Isle of Innisfree,” and “An Irish Airman Foresees His Death,” and he always took an interest, particularly, when I was doing my degrees. I can remember his arguing, good natured I hasten to add, over a passage in St John's Gospel about Greeks visiting Jesus, and their view of what was early Christianity in relation to Plato and Aristotle. Uncle Jimmy won, as he trumped me on St Thomas Aquinas, which I hadn't read at the time.

In truth, Uncle Jimmy was a man of great learning: a man who was even learning Spanish at an advanced age. He was also humanitarian, humble, and helpful in all manner of things. I think it will be safe to state that we will never forget him, and we'll also never forget his great sense of humour too. He certainly broke down barriers with his humour, wit, intellect, and charm, and goes to a place that we can only wish to go to.
Possibly the last photo taken of Fr. Jim; with his good friend Fr. Tom Brennan at the provincial house, July 2012
Fr. Jim McKenna was Fr. Curran’s director during the latter part of his second stint in Louisiana. He always found Fr. Curran to be “peaceful, kind and helpful ... always a people's man ...always considerate of others, and I will miss him as an older priest friend.”

One former Salesian remarked, “He was father and mentor to many in our class and his memory still nourishes the soul.”

There were 2 Masses of Christian Burial for Fr. Jim. The 1st was at St. Jude Cathedral in St. Pete on Sept. 6, celebrated by Bishop Robert Lynch with a eulogy by Fr. Mike Conway. The 2d was at the Marian Shrine in Haverstraw, N.Y., on Sept. 8, celebrated by Fr. Tom Dunne with a eulogy by Fr. Tom Brennan.
Fr. Curran was buried on the 8th in the province's cemetery in Goshen.

               [1] In Salesian terms, an “assistant” is one who is present among the pupils outside the classroom, e.g. in the refectory, the playground, or the dormitory, to keep an eye on the youths, join in activities with them, offer guidance as may be needed, and “assist” them in any other way that may be called for.

              [2] Various documents supplied by Fr. Curran gave conflicting dates--July 15 and July 16--for his ordination. Recourse to the British Province has confirmed July 15, which also happens to have been a Sunday.

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