by Christa Coronado
Father Richard J. Curry, S.J., is no stranger to the world of acting. The 66-year-old Jesuit, who was born without a right forearm, earned a PhD in theater from New York University, and he’s even played a psychiatrist on the television detective series “Monk.” But he is perhaps best known as the founder and artistic director of the National Theatre Workshop of the Handicapped, a 32-year-old nonprofit theater arts training institution for persons with physical disabilities, currently based in New York City and Belfast, Maine.
Six years ago, Curry reached out to disabled combat veterans, especially amputees, and began the Writers’ Program for Wounded Warriors, holding workshops for soldiers to tell their stories in dramatic monologues and in the process to begin to heal the psychological, emotional, and spiritual wounds of war.
“A dramatic monologue is not just journalism,” says Curry, “not just retelling their story. In fact, it is telling their story for a very specific purpose, a very specific response that they want from the particular audience.” It is an act of the imagination, he explains, and feeling the audience’s response, says Curry, can be a source of great healing. “It opens up a validation that probably would not have been there before,” he explains. The wounded warrior realizes that he is “part of a larger universe of love,” says Curry, “and once you get the wounded warrior in touch with that, then you can see that the healing can begin.”
Because of his own physical disability Curry says he had to seek special permission from Rome this year before he could be ordained a priest after more than 40 years as a Jesuit brother (he joined the Jesuits in 1961 at the age of 19). When veterans “started coming to me and asking me to be, in fact, responsive to them as a priest, it profoundly affected me,” he recalls. He realized, he says, that “they’re asking for a disabled priest.” This fall, as a new chaplain-in-residence at Georgetown University, Curry launched an Academy for Veterans to minister “in a sacramental way” to those who have lost limbs and are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Curry hopes to work with disabled veterans from military bases and hospitals in the greater Washington area and to expand his writers’ program. He is incorporating the Georgetown University community into his plans and has set up both a mentoring program with Georgetown undergraduates and a program for law and business students to help disabled veterans with legal and financial matters.
His mission, says Curry, is to let wounded veterans know there is life and joy after disability, and he acknowledges that he brings to his work the particular values of St. Ignatius of Loyola, who founded the Jesuit order in 1534. “Eloquentia perfecta, the perfection of eloquence, is the end result of Jesuit education,” Curry says. “The student can stand on his or her own two feet and defend what he or she believes. This is what I wanted to do for the disabled, who have been ignored for so long. People never asked them what they thought or how they felt, so once you have empowered a disabled person artistically, you have in fact empowered a disabled person.”
Christa Coronado, a junior at Georgetown University, was an intern at Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.