In this podcast Jesuit Father Rick Curry speaks of his work with traumatised military veterans and the difficult path they tread on the way to living and loving again.

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Newly ordained disabled Jesuit’s ministry to veterans

By Mark Pattison Catholic News Service

Jesuit Brother Rick Curry has a new vocation. Hes now Jesuit Father Rick Curry. But he still plans on helping wounded war veterans restore meaning and purpose in their lives.

Jesuit Father Rick Curry, who was born with one arm and founded the National Theatre Workshop of the Handicapped in 1977, was ordained last month at age 66. Becoming a priest at age 66, as he did Sept. 13, might seem to be what in some circles is called a late vocation. But dont apply that term to Father Curry. He said he views priestly ordination as an extension of my ministry.

In 2002, after Father Curry had spent 27 years working with his National Theatre Workshop of the Handicapped, the workshop administrators were asked to bring returning wounded vets from Afghanistan and Iraq to begin a writers program so that they could tell their own stories and, as Father Curry told Catholic News Service, open up the floodgates of post-traumatic stress.

It was during that time that I began to be asked by the Wounded Warriors (the eventual name of the program) to actually hear their confession. I told them I was a Jesuit Brother and not ordained. I told them that so frequently that I began to suspect there was some invitation there, Father Curry said. I was so happy as a Jesuit Brother I never thought of it (priesthood).

His spiritual director echoed Father Currys suspicions, saying, Maybe theres an invitation here. I said, To what? He said, To priesthood. I jokingly said, I dont like priests, Father Curry recalled.

Yet, after a program of study at the Washington Theological Union in the nations capital, Father Curry was ordained. There was only one hitch, and that was easily overcome: Father Curry, who was born without his right arm, obtained an indult from the Vatican to celebrate Mass with only one hand.

Given the flowing chasubles worn by priests at Mass, everybody can, or cannot, be cognizant of the fact that I have only one hand, Father Curry said.

Ive learned to navigate in this world, so Im pretty comfortable with my own skin and I think I radiate a sense of comfort in the sanctuary. . . . And if Im comfortable, I hope everyone else is comfortable.

He gave credit to the late Jesuit Father Jerry Hall for helping him. He took me on privately and he figured out how to offer Mass, how to anoint people, how to baptize babies, all with one hand, Father Curry said. It was a life-affirming experience. My only regret was that he died earlier and he wasnt able to be there in the flesh when I was ordained. He was certainly there in spirit.

Father Curry, now in residence with the Jesuit community at Georgetown University in Washington, wants to resume two initiatives for the Wounded Warriors. One is the writers workshop, where vets hone their writing and testify to their experiences in military life and in combat.

Any program for veterans has to be talked up by other veterans. Veterans have an amazing sense of their own, like being from a certain alma mater; Notre Dame has a certain cachet, he said.

Father Curry added that vets have asked one another about him: Is he one of us? I explain to them I have not lost my arm. I am born without an arm. It matters very little to them. They say, You know what it means to be different. You know what its like to navigate in the two-fisted world. They were making such an identification with me.

Father Curry said he plans to recruit vets for the program after theyve been discharged from the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, and is looking for a site on or near the Georgetown campus to house the program which can take in up to 20 vets at a time for the 12-day program as well as a veterans academy for the soldiers to pursue academics.

The priest will also look for a site in Washington for the second initiative: a bakery training program and retail bakery. Father Curry had such a training program in Maine until he had to shut it down last year to pursue his priesthood studies. Two of the most popular products sold at the Maine site were Brother Currys Breads and Brother Currys Miraculous Dog Biscuits.

What made them miraculous? He replied, If you buy them, I find that miraculous.