Tag: SFDS Alumnae

Operation Discovery

Amid the unsettled mix of optimism, experimentation, disruption, and social change that were the 1960s, Jeanne McGettigan (SFDS ’61-’67) recalls being part of a capstone character-building summer program at SFDS aptly named “Operation Discovery.”

The pilot project was launched in 1964 by the Archdiocesan Commission on Human Relations with a goal to “develop the hidden talents and to foster a sense of community responsibility” among mostly black youth in the low-income area around Most Precious Blood Parish in North Central Philadelphia. By 1966, the program had expanded to four other Philadelphia city parish neighborhoods – including SFDS — and one in Chester.

Students invited to SFDS (the Southwest Center) and the other centers were seventh, eighth and ninth graders from surrounding parochial and public schools, selected for good grades “and a keen  intellectual curiosity… no distinctions were made regarding race, nationality or religion…” This was notable at the time, since Civil Rights were still new. For SFDS participants, Jeanne recalls that the idea of parochial school students mingling with public school students was an exciting and strange experience!

What happened in the six-week program? In addition to creative classes, the Catholic Standard and Times noted that “Each center produces its own weekly newspaper, The Discovery Times…Frequent debates are held on questions related to teenage dress, civil rights, capital punishment, the minimum voting age and the high school ‘drop out’ problem…Basic logic,…parliamentary procedure and the art of conducting public meetings also form part of ‘Operation Discovery’s’ challenging curriculum…” along with “trips to area museums and historic places of interest….

Jeanne reports on the debate classes in which “I competed with what was really an essay (not a speech) on taking responsibility. I was in way over my head and other, public school debaters blew me out of the water.  As I mentioned to you, I remember best the comparative self-assuredness of the black students from public schools.  They demonstrated more confidence and much less deference to authority.  I was a bit in awe of them.”

In September, 1966, the Catholic Standard and Times reported that about 500 “Operation Discovery” students completed “a summer of discovery and learning Tuesday by visiting the Nation’s Capital and hearing an inspiring speech by Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey” who “told of how he had to delay his education for lack of funds, but emphasized that he finally won his college diploma. Mr. Humphrey, chairman of the President’s Space Council, painted a rosy picture for the youngsters of the Nation’s capabilities in space. He predicted that the U. S. will put a man on the moon before 1971..and  ‘In less than five years, we’re going to have a village on the moon in the sense that a manned station will be set up to maintain scientific data.’” (Jeanne’s verdict: “He seemed ‘fake’ to me at the time, but I was probably suspicious of most adults who were overly jolly, as he presented himself”). 

The paper reported that “The final act of the six-week leadership development program was the placing of a wreath on the grave of President Kennedy in Arlington Cemetery.” It was a sobering moment after the optimistic pep talk: Kennedy – the first Catholic president and national emblem of youth – had been assassinated in November 1963, just a few months after Martin Luther King Jr.’s inspirational “I Have a Dream” speech. King would be killed in 1968. Americans landed on the moon in 1969. Sadly, moon villages never materialized and racial inequality never disappeared. “Operation Discovery” seems to have become lost in history, but could have had positive lasting effects: Jeanne reports “My experience with Operation Discovery was really the first time I had been encouraged to see myself as someone with an active role to play in the broader community.  I also recall enthusiastically grabbing hold of the idea that poverty was a problem that could be analyzed and, with sufficient good will, solved.” The challenge remains!

Operation Discovery Program Booklet, circa 1967
Operation Discovery students shown at one of the Centers

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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!