A Tribute to Dolores Curran

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.

4 responses to “A Tribute to Dolores Curran

  1. She did a lot of ground-breaking thinking and writing. I would like t0 have met her. Thanks for sharing this. Cathy Niemet

  2. Dolores really supported me in the RE program at St Mary’s. Grateful for the joy of living fully.
    Marianne keena csj

  3. Thank you Kathy for a powerfully written tribute. Dolores was my mother and she taught us all a lot on how to be fearless, direct, and hopeful. You captured her essence! Lots of love to you and your readers,

    Daniel Curran

  4. Kathy – thank you for this tribute of Dolores. It is SPOT ON! My family was blessed to be included in one of Dolores’s superb ideas-into-action, a home Mass group that brought families with teenagers together to celebrate the Mass and to have discussions and then take action around social justice issues during late 60’s. It changed my life as a high schooler, deepened my faith (not necessarily my fealty to dogma…) and opened my eyes to how the world really worked and what I must do to make it work better for the least of God’s children. Those families are still dear friends, and as we say goodbye, one by one, to the parents in that group, all of us “kids” hold our truly “fearless leader”, Dolores Curran, in great esteem and affection.

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