Biographies

Father James P. Curtin, MM

Born: January 15, 1919
Ordained: June 10, 1945
Died: June 15, 1994

Father James Patrick Curtin died at 7:15 p.m., Wednesday, June 15, 1994, at St.Mary’s Hospital, San Francisco, California. He was 75 years of age and a Maryknoll priest for 49 years.

James Patrick Curtin was born in Glanmire, Co. Cork, Ireland, on January 15, 1919, son of John Joseph and Norah Kelly Curtin. He has one sister, Margaret. His family emigrated to the United States in November of 1925 and became naturalized citizens in May 1933. James Patrick attended St. James Parochial School in San Francisco. He entered Maryknoll Junior Seminary in Los Altos, California, in September of 1932 for first year of high school, and years later received his Bachelor of Arts degree in Philosophy at Maryknoll Apostolic College (Venard), in Clarks Summit, Pennsylvania. James Patrick was ordained a priest at Maryknoll Seminary in Ossining, New York, on June 10, 1945.

Father Curtin was assigned to the Maryknoll Mission in Guatemala. He became pastor of the parish in Ixtahuacan and learned Spanish very well and also mastered the Main Indian language. Throughout his mission apostolate he had a strong attachment to the people, especially the Indians. His Superior wrote of him: “He is doing splendid work in his mission which promises to be one of our best in Guatemala. He is gentle by nature and is beloved by the Indians.” The Superior General while on visitation of the Guatemala mission wrote that: “Father Curtin impresses me as one of our best. He is a fine character, intensely interested in his work and tackles his problems intelligently.”

In 1951, Father Curtin was transferred to Huehuetenango. He served for one year as the Maryknoll Group Superior and then was appointed Pastor of San Miguel Acatan Parish among the Kanjobal Indians. He repaired the old church, built a school, a convent and invited Sisters to teach. For many years Father Curtin had a fruitful and valuable apostolate among the Indians of Guatemala. His work with them gave birth to the Bishops’ Pastoral Commission for the Indians which later became the National Indian Center (Centro Indigena) in Guatemala. Appointed by the Bishops Conference, he served as the executive secretary of the Conference, and was widely recognized as one of the most, if not the most respected voices on Indian culture.

On October 27, 1961, Father Curtin began a six year term as the Regional Superior for the Guatemala-El Salvador Mission Region. In 1967 he was appointed Assistant Pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Guatemala City, and resumed his intensive work among the Indians. In March 1978 was assigned to the Centro Indigena for one year. In July of 1979 Father Curtin enjoyed a sabbatical year on studies and spiritual renewal in the United States.

On July 27, 1980 Father Curtin was recalled to the United States Region and assigned to the Development Department for development work in the San Francisco area. In the San Francisco Bay area, Father Curtin was well known for his human rights advocacy work and for his encouragement of Central America solidarity networks.  At his own request, at age 65, he was enrolled in the Special Society Unit with residence at his sister’s home in San Francisco and Maryknoll Residence, Los Altos, California.

In St. Mary’s Cathedral, San Francisco, on Tuesday, November 12, 1991, Father Curtin received the Moriarty Human Rights Award in recognition of his tireless efforts on behalf of the Central American refugees, especially the Indians.

Wake services were held on Friday, June 17th, in the Chapel of Maryknoll Residence, Los Altos, California, followed by concelebrated Mass of Christian Burial in the Chapel and internment in Maryknoll Cemetery, Los Altos. A Memorial Mass was offered in Our Lady Queen of Apostles Chapel, Maryknoll, New York, on Wednesday, June 22, 1994 with Father William Donnelly, principal celebrant and Fr. William Mullan, homilist.