Month: April 2016

Never Say Never: Reverend Richard Curry

hand

If you had asked teenaged Rick Curry to lend you a hand, he would gladly have done so, but he might first have had to run out to his car to get it, reports his old classmate and friend, John Deady.

Curry, who graduated from SFDS parish school (class of 1957) and later West Catholic, was born without a right forearm and sometimes found his prosthesis cumbersome.

Well-liked in the parish school, Curry managed to get into as much mischief as any of the other boys. The Sisters prepared him early on, though, for limited career choices. Particularly, he was told, he should not aspire to a career in the military, as a doctor, or in religious life – how could a priest perform a blessing or say Mass without a right arm?

This set the challenge for a contrarian lifetime of achievement.

Joining the religious as a Jesuit Brother, Curry overcame the doubts of various supervisors, became an accomplished one-armed baker, and wrote two cookbooks. The Secrets of Jesuit Breadmaking is an entertaining education in the spiritual significance of bread, as well as a compilation of favorite recipes from his travels around the Jesuit world.

After earning a BA from Saint Joseph’s College and an MA from Villanova, Curry earned the title of Doctor, with a PhD in Educational Theatre from new York University. Then, for many years, he worked with the Veteran’s Administration on healthcare and rehabilitation for wounded veterans – thus associating himself with both medicine and the military.

Curry spent his life creating opportunities for the handicapped. He advocated for actors with disabilities – working to ensure that genuinely disabled people played disabled parts in theatre, movies, and television. He himself played a number of small roles, including a one-armed psychologist on an episode of the long-running TV series Monk. He became a professor of Catholic Studies and Theatre, as well as director of the Academy for Veterans at Georgetown University. He also co-founded the Dog Tag Bakery, operated by wounded veterans.

In his lifetime, Curry received twenty-five honorary degrees, and was named a “Distinguished Citizen” by President George H.W. Bush. Six years before he passed away in December 2015, he applied for a special dispensation from Rome to become a priest, and was ordained. The IHM Sisters who long ago encouraged him to accept limitations, might be very glad to be proven not quite right just this once!

Where Babies Came From: Misericordia Hospital

stork

Families used to be large and the University of Pennsylvania Hospital was small and far away. So where were all those local babies born?

In 1913, as the neighbourhood grew, Archbishop Prendergast recognized a need and prevailed on the Sisters of Mercy to open a Catholic hospital in West Philadelphia at 54th and Cedar. Reverend Mother (Patricia Waldron) commissioned architect Edwin F. Durang to design an elegant six-story building “flanked by four diagonal wings, the whole forming a St. Andrew’s cross. ” Nursing sisters began training at other Mercy hospitals and also locally at the College of Pharmacy (today’s University of the Sciences) and the Polyclinic Hospital (formerly 20th and South). Our parish was one of several to help with fundraisers.

Misericordia  Hospital was finished and dedicated on June 9, 1918, by Bishop McCort, assisted by our then pastor, Monsignor Crane. The Philadelphia Inquirer announced that “preceding the dedicatory exercises, will be a big parade of the various West Philadelphia parishes,” and “Red Cross units from West Philadelphia parishes will be in line, attired in uniform.”  Later, a “fully equipped motor ambulance” would be presented by the Ladies Auxiliary of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, an Irish American Fraternal organization.

Local parishes continued their support through the early years: some of the attractions at a 1921 Lawn Fete included baby clothes and a baby beauty contest; a lamp and lampshade booth; ice cream; a doll table; and a performance by our St. Francis de Sales Boys’ Military Band.

In the beginning, the hospital was prepared “to take care of sick and wounded soldiers and sailors of the United States and nurse them back to health.” The First World War was just  ending as the hospital opened, but the great Influenza epidemic of 1918 was about to begin.

And then there were the babies. Generations of them. Father Hand and his twin brother were both born at Misericordia. Jeannie Jordan and Beth Ellerby were also born there, and Jeannie notes that her father used to feel that after the births of his seven children, he’d paid enough to have a personal stake in the place! Many other local families likely felt the same.

Today, families are smaller, but Mercy Philadelphia Hospital, as it is now known, still serves the region: its “commitment to West Philadelphia is as strong as ever and is an expression of our core values which are rooted in our history, define our present, and direct our future.”