When he was just 5 or 6 years old, he was told he could never be a priest, a soldier or a doctor because he was born without his right forearm. And if those groups didn’t want him, the young Rick Curry didn’t want them either. But God had a different plan.

curry1Jesuit Fr. Rick Curry, who was born with one arm, delivered a talk, “Born to Serve: Our Response to Returning Veterans Parish to Parish – Person to Person,” at Marquette University, Sept. 15. He is pictured at his residence in Washington in this Catholic News Service file photo. (CNS photo by Bob Roller)“I’m a priest, I have a doctorate and I’m working with the military,” Jesuit Fr. Rick Curry said as almost 300 people roared with laughter during his guest talk at Marquette University Sept. 15 for the “Rev. Richard A. McGarrity, SJ Lecture Series.” “So, never, ever circumscribe God – don’t ever do that.”

During his talk, “Born to Serve: Our Response to Returning Veterans Parish to Parish – Person to Person,” Fr. Curry encouraged people to support his latest endeavors – beginning the Academy for Veterans at Georgetown University, where Fr. Curry teaches courses in theology and theatre, and opening Dogtag Bakery, in addition to welcoming and caring for veterans in their home parishes.

Fr. Curry, who was a Jesuit brother from 1961 until he was ordained a priest in 2009, was introduced to the needs of disabled veterans in New York about nine years ago when he was invited to host a 5K race for people who were newly leg amputees returning from Iraq.

During this event, hosted by Achilles International, an organization that brings sports to people with disabilities, Fr. Curry was approached by a soldier with one leg who didn’t feel like he was a husband to his wife, a father to his children, an employee to his employer or a parishioner at his own parish.

“Well, my heart broke, because I realized this 20-year-old man had made his body so much – his perfect body – so much a part of his identity that when part of it was ripped away, so much of his identity was damaged also,” Fr. Curry said, adding that the young man who was lost, also introduced Fr. Curry to his new friends – other amputees. The priest was stunned by their gratitude for his presence.

“They felt, somehow, a huge connection with me, which absolutely stunned me because I had no experience with military whatsoever,” he said.

Fr. Curry said that while the National Theatre Workshop of the Handicapped (NTWH), an international theatre arts-training institution he founded in 1977 for people with physical disabilities, was helping people with recent disabilities, it wouldn’t be the place for wounded soldiers.

To request a DVD
recording of Fr. Curry’s Sept. 15 keynote, “Born to Serve: Our Response to Returning Veterans Parish to Parish – Person to Person,” part of the “Rev. Richard A. McGarrity, SJ Lecture on Faith and Culture,” visit www.jesuitpartners.org/RMDVD

Instead, Fr. Curry founded the Wounded Warriors Writers Workshop in 2003, which took the dramatic monologue course of the NTWH that teaches students to elicit a specific reaction or feeling from its audience, and applied it to disabled veterans and their need to name the feelings that are otherwise anesthetized by post-traumatic stress disorder.

Dogtag Bakery and the Academy will offer the chance to further address the psychological and physical challenges faced by disabled veterans, especially those from Iraq and Afghanistan, when they return from service and leave the hospitals.

At Dogtag Bakery, whose name Fr. Curry said was derived from the “only thing that all of the services actually agree on” – dog tags – and the fact that dogs have served the disabled so well, disabled veterans will participate in a four-month-long internship where they will learn to be bakers, shippers, handlers and telemarketers in the front of the building, before working in the back of the building to make dog tag dog biscuits and completing a month-long course in entrepreneurship.

Young Marien called to Jesuit priesthood

When Jesuit Fr. Rick Curry attended St. Joseph’s Preparatory School in Philadelphia, he said he gravitated toward becoming a brother because the scholastics and priests were the disciplinarians.

The son of a dentist and homemaker, he became a Jesuit brother in 1961.

Following a conversation with a young Marine who lost an arm and a leg in Iraq the then-brother decided to become a priest. Fr. Curry met with the young man, who was the “angriest human being” he’d ever met, and let him talk.

“At one point, I can remember sitting there with just tears running down my cheeks, listening to what this poor, young man had gone through in such a short life, and then, as the marine pulled himself together, he said, ‘OK, Padre, how about absolution?’” Fr. Curry said. “I said, ‘Look, I’m going to tell you something. The Holy Spirit is in this room. I know that your sins are forgiven, but I will tell you that I’m not an ordained priest.’” Fr. Curry explained that he was a Jesuit brother and that he had never been called to priesthood.

“He said, ‘Well, I’m effing calling you.’ That’s the basis of my vocation,” Fr. Curry said, noting that he was ordained in September 2009 and, because he was born without his right forearm, had to seek permission from Rome to offer Mass in the Roman rite with one hand.

Fr. Curry wants to help people realize that there is joy after disability. “For me, that’s worth everything,” he said.
– Tracy Rusch

“Then, after that course, I will bring them to Georgetown University where they get a five-course program in reading and writing for vets, math for vets (and) current events for vets – many of these guys have no idea what’s been going on in the world – we have a course in entrepreneurship, again, and a course in spirituality, finding out where their hearts are,” said Fr. Curry, who received training as a novice brother to become a baker, and eventually wrote “The Secrets of Jesuit Soupmaking,” and “The Secrets of Jesuit Breadmaking.”

Dogtag Bakery is an attempt to reach the disabled combat veterans when they’re released from Veterans Affairs (VA) hospitals to prevent them from falling into lives of addiction.

“We need to get to these extraordinary men and women as quickly as we can when they’re leaving the hospitals, because, very quickly, if they came home without any structure at all, they will slip into drug addiction, alcohol addiction, sadly now Internet porn, domestic violence and all-around discouragement,” said Fr. Curry. “Then, you have to go ahead and rectify that before you can get to them.”

It’s imperative that Fr. Curry begins raising money to get the bakery going because the disabled veterans “need a visible thing to show that we, in fact, can produce….” he said, noting that he would like to get the dog biscuits sold in major stores to show that disabled veterans can become entrepreneurs, receive help and make money. “And for those of you who don’t have a dog, I would really ask you to get one to support our goal.”

Fr. Curry said he’s desperate to get disabled veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan on the Georgetown campus to show their 19-20-21-year-old colleagues, who will be taking their peers to the gym and basketball games, that the war has a cost.

“All of those things are terribly important because it can’t be we-they; it has to be us, and remember that these men and women who were serving so valiantly are young and they haven’t had the experience of a $50,000-a-year education, and we have to be able to be certain that we know we can, in fact, help them.”

All people can answer the question, “What can we do?” by offering their support and prayers for his work in Washington, D.C., Fr. Curry said.

Or they could offer their services beginning at the parish level, like Fr. Curry’s former teacher friends did in Buffalo, N.Y. They started what he called a “babysitting” service for veterans and their spouses. After getting bonded and advertising in the parish bulletin, the group of six women grew to 30 and then 60, who secure “free passes” from local restaurants, and even weekend stays at resorts, for the veterans.

“That’s what these women can do….” Fr. Curry said. “What you do has every possibility of helping a vet. If you’re a dentist, if you’re an accountant, if you’re an attorney, if you can baby sit, if you can give a discount on appliances – it is extraordinary what goes on.”

As Roman Catholics, with an “extraordinary” network of parishes throughout the country, Fr. Curry said helping is easy.

“We don’t have to build buildings, we just have to go to our pastors and say, ‘Would you please help us set up a committee to welcome home veterans?’ and find out what their needs are….” said Fr. Curry, noting that the veterans may need financial or law advice. “Remember, they’re 19-20 years of age, but they could be married and have a couple of kids.”

The veterans also need job prospects, which Fr. Curry said should be listed in bulletins every week.

“These are pretty easy things to do, and, pastorally, we invite them to come back into our church and back to our sacramental life,” he said. “Let them know there are people who love them, care for them and (who) will pray for them.”

It’s what they deserve after serving the country, he said.

“We owe them this and more, and we as Christians tell the world we are Christians because we wash each other’s feet,” Fr. Curry said. “I think there’s an extraordinary invitation to wash the feet of those who have pants that are khaki and are camouflaged. They need so badly a smile and a welcome to know that they are not alone.”