Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Monica Yant Kinney: Called by adversity

The Rev. Rick Curry turned a humiliating rejection into a life of faith and creativity.

At the chapel at St. Joe's Prep in North Philly, the Rev. Rick Curry, who was born without a right forearm, and St. Joe's president the Rev. George Bur talk with students. (April Saul / Staff Photographer )
At the chapel at St. Joe's Prep in North Philly, the Rev. Rick Curry, who was born without a right forearm, and St. Joe's president the Rev. George Bur talk with students. (April Saul / Staff Photographer )Read more

At the last Mass at St. Joseph's Prep before students scattered for Christmas break, the Rev. Rick Curry gave the homily.

I'm not sure how to adequately describe this man, so get ready for a wild ride that I guarantee will put you in the mood for Christmas.

Curry's homily began with a story about a mouthwash commercial.

The would-be actor was born without a right forearm, which made him a freak to the receptionist at the 1977 audition. She laughed him right out of the office.

"I was stunned. I was hurt," the visiting priest told the church full of 1,000 antsy young men. "There was no way I could convince her that having one arm wouldn't stop me from gargling mouthwash."

At the time, Curry was a Jesuit brother studying for his doctorate in theater. He trudged off muttering, "God, what was that all about?"

A day later, Curry got the idea to open the National Theatre Workshop of the Handicapped.

Today, his "workshop" ( consists of two campuses (in New York and Maine) and a professional repertory company funded in part with proceeds from a bakery staffed by disabled students. The bakery sells Brother Curry's Miraculous Dog Biscuits along with bread from one of the two cookbooks he's authored.

I told you Curry had some tricks up that sleeve.

In his spare time, he also runs Wounded Warriors, a dramatic-writing program for veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

And in a triumphant comeuppance, the man once deemed unfit for a mouthwash ad has been profiled on 60 Minutes. He even guest-starred on the cable program Monk.

"Be attentive to surprises, joys, disappointment," Curry told his charges. "It's all part of God's plan."

'They didn't want me'

The fact that Curry - a West Philadelphia native who attended the Prep in 1957-58 - could deliver a holiday sermon proves his point.

When he was growing up, church discipline held that a priest needed the use of the thumb and pointer finger on both hands to hold the host to be consecrated.

"I was told when I was 6 I couldn't be a priest," he explained after Mass. "They didn't want me. And I didn't want them."

Curry's first calling was to the stage. He majored in theater at St. Joseph's University, earned a master's at Villanova and a doctorate at NYU, all while serving God the only way he was allowed - as a brother.

"Any time you raise the human spirit, you're working in an atmosphere of faith," he told me. "When you are giving tools to persons of disabilities to communicate with one another, you're dealing with something very sacred."

An unexpected calling

Six years ago, Curry was counseling wounded soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center when he met an angry young man who would upend his life.

"He was very anxious to get things off his chest," Curry recalled. As the soldier raged on, "I had no idea it was his idea we were in confession. At the end, he said, 'Padre, how about absolution?' "

Embarrassed, Curry explained that he wasn't a priest.

"Why not?" the soldier probed.

"I've never been called."

"Well," the young man barked, "I'm calling you."

Curry, then 60, was so moved that he reported the exchange to his superiors. He expected them to say he was too old and too busy.

They told him to heed the call. Church rules had changed, so his disability wouldn't be a deterrent.

After much soul-searching, Curry went back to school, earning a master's in theology before petitioning Rome for an indult to join the priesthood. On Sept. 13, at age 66, he was ordained.

Curry will say Christmas Mass at Holy Trinity Church on the Georgetown University campus, where he now lives. The topic? Peace, which he sees in a new light from meeting soldiers blinded in the fight for it.

"We have this grandiose vision that we can create world peace, but we can't even create peace with our fellow workers," Curry laments. "Only when you see what it takes to have peace yourself can you hope to have it across the world."

So where to begin? He urges "constant reconciliation" with those we've offended (or who have offended us) wherever they may be.

"We can't let the season go by with any of those fissions in our own families. That's how difficult peace is. That's what the Lord is challenging us to do at Christmas."