Remembering Fr. Richard Curry, SJ

By Mike Gabriele

A teacher, a role model, and a spiritual leader for the handicapped and disabled . . . he understood what they were going through, met them where they were, and helped them reach their dreams.

On December 19, 2015, Fr. Rick Curry, SJ, finally got his right arm. After a lifetime of helping the disabled, Fr. Curry passed away from heart failure at the age of 72. Born into this life without a right forearm, Rick Curry’s father would often promise him a new one for his birthdays, when he was a child. Hoping for a miracle, his mother even took him to see and kiss the relic arm of St. Francis Xavier. But young Rick didn’t pray for one. He was content the way he was, it seemed.

But perhaps St. Francis did inspire him, for at the age of 19, Rick entered the Society of Jesus and became a Jesuit brother in 1962. Acting had always been a passion, but when ridiculed for having the audacity to show up for a TV commercial audition with only one arm, he realized the magnitude of the struggles that lay ahead, and how he could best help others who faced the same closed doors. The next day, Br. Curry’s national theater workshop for the handicapped officially opened in New York City; a second location was later established in Belfast, Maine. He focused on changing attitudes about the disabled and creating opportunities for handicapped actors and actresses. From the deaf and the blind, to amputees and the wheelchair bound, those dreaming of performing on stage or in front of the camera flocked to Br. Curry’s workshops. He had become what was surely the world’s only talent agent dedicated solely to the disabled.

 
   
Breaking bread for disabled veterans––staff and volunteers help Fr. Curry officially open Dog Tag Bakery in Washington, D.C. 
Rick Curry also loved baking, which he learned and crafted as a young Jesuit. He authored several renowned cookbooks, including the bestseller The Secrets of Jesuit Breadmaking. In much the same way that acting led to his first venture assisting the marginalized, baking led to his second big project: reaching out to disabled veterans returning home. He conceived and founded the Dogtag Bakery in Washington, D.C., a bakery and workshop that raises money for disabled vets and teaches them valuable entrepreneurial skills. The business training they receive through Dogtag Bakery is now part of Georgetown University’s continuing education program.

Having only one arm never deterred Rick Curry, and it certainly didn’t hold him back from fulfilling his final call in life––to transition from life as a Jesuit brother to service as a Jesuit priest. Having already surmounted so many obstacles, figuring a way around canon law (which required two hands to celebrate Mass) was simply par for the course. He did, and on September 13, 2009, at the age of 66, Br. Richard Curry, SJ, became Fr. Richard Curry, SJ.

Always inspiring by example, Fr. Curry once quipped that he was never able to attend a one-handed school to teach him how to live in a two-fisted world. “I learned to adapt,” he said. “It wasn’t always easy, but I look at this disability as a gift from God.” For so many struggling with how to adapt in their own ways, Fr. Curry’s love and guidance were indeed gifts from God as well. He was a teacher, a role model, and a spiritual leader who understood what they were going through, met them where they were, and helped them reach their dreams.

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