The late Father James B. Curran, SDB
1921-2012 FR. James B. Curran, SDB, a native of Annascaul, passed away peacefully during the mid-afternoon on Monday, September 3, at St. Anthony's Hospital in St. Petersburg, Florida.
His passing has generated an outpouring of grief on both sides of the Atlantic as this unique West Kerry gentleman dedicated his life to the needs of others.
James Brendan Curran was born in Annascaul in West Kerry on May 27, 1921 to James and Helen Kennedy Curran and was baptised the following day at the Church of the Sacred Heart.
After attending primary school in Scoil Bhreac Chluain he continued his secondary school studies at the CBS in Dingle.
Discovering his vocation at a young age, he entered the Salesian aspirantate at Shrigley (Cheshire), England. He had to go to England because until 1972 there was a single Salesian province for the United Kingdom, Ireland, South Africa, and Malta.
Jim entered the novitiate with 20 others at Beckford (Gloucester) on Aug. 30, 1940. His novice master was the legendary Fr. Joseph Simonetti, who held that position for 60 years. 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 he made his first profession of vows at Beckford on Aug. 31, 1941. He did his philosophical and liberal arts studies at the Salesian 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, undertaking a perilous sea voyage to reach the island fortress of the Mediterranean in December 1943 through U-Boat infested waters (it was during the height of WWII).
While in Malta Bro. Curran continued his studies and passed the London University Intermediate Arts Exam. In 1946 he completed his Bachelor of Arts degree at London University, majoring in English, British and European History and Latin.
Bro. Curran professed perpetual vows on Aug. 14, 1947. Soon thereafter he started his study of theology at Shrigley and finished at Blaisdon Hall, where he was ordained on July 16, 1951, 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.
Following a visit to Chicago, in 1963 Fr. Curran transferred from the Anglo-Irish Province to the New Rochelle Province. He 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 Salesian 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 as vocation director. The following year he was appointed director ( religious superior) of the school and the Salesian community; he served a six-year term. During that time he became an American citizen (Jan. 26, 1970).
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 Salesian community was given to him.
In 1979 Fr. Curran was appointed the director of Sacred Heart Retreat House in Ipswich, Mass.
After four years in Ipswich, he was named pastor of St. Rosalie Church in Harvey, La., and served there for twelve 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 Salesian 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. 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.
After seven more happy years in that parish — happy except for Hurricane Katrina, which he rode out with the other Salesians 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.
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 Salesian friends in the North during July 2012, but his health had deteriorated noticeably. Thus in August he moved into the Salesian retirement community at St. Philip the Apostle.
Father Curran was much loved and known especially for his dry wit and learned homilies that only improved with age.
Although Fr. Curran held no higher degree than his B.A., he spoke French, Italian, and Irish, which earned the West Kerry priest the affectionate title, 'Doctor Curran'. He was even in the process of leaning Spanish in his later years.
This extraordinary gentleman will be remembered in the hearts and minds of all those who had the honour of encountering him. In the manner of his fellow village man, Antarctic explorer Tom Crean, Fr. Curran was a globe trotter and something of an (academic!) adventurer; however it was his humility and humanity that endeared him to so many during his amazing life.
A people person, always considerate and mindful of the needs of others, Fr. Curran passed away on September 3. He was waked on Thursday September 6 before Mass of Christian Burial was celebrated in Florida at St. Jude's Cathedral, presided over by Bishop Robert N. Lynch.
Ar Dheis Dé go raibh a hanam uasal dilís.