We pause the Advent reflections to honor the death of a dynamic, ground-breaking woman, Dolores Curran.
At a time when the US Catholic church was dominated by priests and religious, she introduced the then-shocking notion that perhaps the laity might also play a part. In her ground-breaking book Who Me, Teach My Child Religion?, she suggested that the home was an arena for spirituality and that parents just might find God there in themselves and their children. In the family were “hearts of flesh” often not found in the sterile institutional “hearts of stone” that still can’t embrace the gay or lesbian kids. Now her ideas seem mild; then they were wildly coloring-outside-the-lines.
She recalled with disappointment the origins of Call to Action in the sixties. The bishops had asked lay people like herself for consultation, then after long, grueling hours when many had to leave young families, they totally dismissed their recommendations. (Apparently the same ideas, like allowing married men and women into the priesthood are still surfacing in the current synodal discussions.)
Although writing 12 books, a column, “Talks with Parents” for 30 years, and numerous articles might seem grim work in the clerical climate, Dolores did it all with spunk and humor. In one article she described driving through Nebraska when some ridiculous bishop there had excommunicated members of Call to Action. Her kiddos in the back seat picked up on the hint they might not have to go to Mass and were thrilled, cheering. She wrote one for America Magazine when the only names on their masthead had “S.J.” after them, about women in the church being like the builders, coerced by the English, of the Irish famine roads that went nowhere… The book that bridged from the Catholic world into the larger one was the Christopher Award-winning Traits of a Healthy Family.
Typical of Dolores, she focused not on pathology, but on characteristics parents might recognize and say, “Hey! We’re not doing so badly!” That work led to even more lectures nationally and internationally, and service with the White House Conference on Family in the 1980’s.
Her sense of humor carried over into a project in Denver when some of us started an alternative to the diocesan newspaper, which featured 15 pictures of the archbishop in almost every issue. We began Leaven for the “thinking Catholic,”and included book and liturgy reviews, thoughtful pieces questioning some of the more egregious policies of local church leaders and the Vatican, and when we were lucky, a funny piece from Dolores. She and Sr. Mary Luke Tobin served for many years on our board, always generous with their support.
Personally, I’ll always be grateful for the vital encouragement Dolores and Sr. Joyce Rupp gave me when I transitioned from teaching college to writing and speaking in the spirituality arena. If it hadn’t been for them, I probably would’ve floundered and quit within two weeks. Now, I continue to cherish her bold perspective, breath of fresh air, and model I’ve tried to follow. Brian Doyle names eloquently what she was: “if we cannot see God in the vessels into which the electricity of astonishing life is poured by a profligate creation… then we are very bad at the religion we claim to practice, which says forthrightly that God is everywhere available…” (Eight Whopping Lies and Other Stories of Bruised Grace, p.9)
With grief for the loss and gratitude we had her, I think of St. Thomas More’s line about “meeting merrily in heaven.” I know she’s laughing uproariously now with her husband Jim, their daughter Theresa who died young, and her many siblings. In fact, Dolores and God are probably cracking zany jokes together.