1939 10 June born Chapelhall
Our Lady’s High School Motherwell
St. Peter’s College Cardross
1962 Ordained Motherwell Cathedral 29 June
1962-1967 St. Benedict’s Easterhouse
1967-1972 St. David’s Plains
1972-1977 St. Augustine’s Coatbridge
1977-1983 St. Bride’s East Kilbride
1983-1985 St. Francis Xavier Carfin
1985-1987 St. Aidan’s Wishaw
1987-1990 St. Clare’s Easterhouse
1990-2005 St. John the Baptist Uddingston
2005 15 September died Uddingston aged 66
Reverend Robert Curley – 15th September, 2005
CD 2006 p 525
Fr. Robert Curley, parish priest of St. John the Baptist Parish, Uddingston died very suddenly on Thursday 15th September 2005 in the 66th year of his age and 43rd year of his priesthood.
At the concelebrated funeral Mass in St John the Baptist’s on Wednesday 21st September -2005, Bishop Joseph Devine, Bishop of Motherwell delivered the following homily.
Fr. Curley was buried in the Priests’ Plot in St Patrick’s Cemetery, New Stevenston.
I suspect that most people here are still in a state of shock, bordering on disbelief, at the death of Fr. Bob Curley last Thursday evening. It is easy to see why. Over the past decades I do not recall him suffering from a cold, far less a ‘flu. The sprightly step, the powerful physique and most of all the head of black hair made him look much younger than his 66 years. While we have 4 priests over 80 in the active ministry, the death of Fr. Curley is a timely reminder that the average life span of a Motherwell priest over the years since the foundation of the diocese, some 58 years ago, is around 65.
Today will be a sad day for the people of this parish and for people who have come here from parishes where he served in the past, not least from the parish community of Saint Aidan’s and from St Clare’s in Easterhouse where he served each parish for less than 3 years before coming here 15 years ago. Mgr. Burns told me that he had endless phone calls from parishioners from St. Aidan’s when the news of Bob’s death reached them on Thursday and Friday of last week.
But those who will grieve most today will be his very elderly mother and his brother Tom and his family, as well as the friends of his childhood in Chapelhall. To all of them again I extend my profound sympathy on their loss. I also will miss him hugely as he was ever a great support to me over the past 22 years.
Of course, my knowledge of him goes back much further, for some 54 years, when he entered the junior seminary close to Aberdeen in 1951. What comes back to me from those days was the image of a fresh faced and friendly youngster, except on a football field, from a small town in central Lanarkshire. He was ever sturdily built, a build well suited to a right sided midfield player who could easily have made a name for himself in football had he not sought a much greater vocation in life as a priest. Although I was a couple of years ahead of him in college days, our paths were to cross again in the years we spent together at the old seminary for the Western Province at Cardross.
But that is to rush the story of his life, a life that began on 10th of June, 1939 in the town of Chapelhall. He was born into a devout family of St. Aloysius parish community. He had two brothers, Tom who is with us today and William who died many years ago. He attended the local primary school, before going on to the junior seminary and to Saint Peter’s College in Cardross, being ordained in the Cathedral, Motherwell on 29th of June, 1962, by James Donald Scanlan.
As was usual for some of the young priests in the 1960’s, his first appointment was to a parish in Easterhouse. In his case it was to St. Benedic’t’s, where he was to remain for the next 5 years. Exactly 20 years later he was to return to the neighbouring parish of St. Clare’s, at a time in his life that would prove to be crucial over the last 18 years of his ministry. I give notice of this as I will return to comment on that change a little later. He was then to spend 5 years, in Plains, from 1967 to 1972, before going to one of the big parishes in Coatbridge, St. Augustine’s, for the following five years. That takes us to 1983, the year that I came to the diocese. Shortly before my arrival he had been for 6 years in the parish of St. Bride’s in East Kilbride a year before moving to Carfin to be with the late Canon George Mullen.
So after some 30 years since I had last met him, it was in his stay in Carfin that we met again. As it happened, this was not a very happy time in his life. He seemed to have lost focus and direction. I offered him a rehabilitation course from which he emerged a quite new person. When he returned from that course, due to unexpected deaths of priests in the next two years, I asked him to provide cover in St. Teresa’s in Newarthill and in St. Mary’s in Hamilton. He served both parishes very well over those short periods.
But the most significant clue as to what his future would be was when I asked him to be an assistant to Mgr. Burns in St. Aidan’s, Wishaw. The two of them became very fine friends and Bob was a revelation to the people of that parish, particularly the men of that parish, some of them being with us here in Uddingston today. He only spent three years there, but those three years would shape his ministry until the end of his life.
In September of 1987 I asked him to go back to Easterhouse as parish priest of St. Clare’s. I cannot begin to tell you of his success there, except to say that over the past 15 years in Uddingston, on a weekly basis, he had men from that parish, members of the St. Vincent de Paul Society, to assist him with all manner of things, not least in giving help to some of the most deprived members of our diocese from some of the more affluent families of this parish community.
With the sudden death of Fr. Tom Corless in 1990, I had no hesitation in asking Father Curley to be his successor. Over the past 15 years, he achieved many things. The first was to clear the debt on this lovely church, the very first big project that I undertook soon after coming to the diocese. A second was that he built up financial resources in the light of the need to provide a new parish centre, as the old parish hall had passed its sell by date many years ago. But what is truly astonishing is that with the help of his old friend George Calder, what they achieved was remarkable. If a stranger was to come into the car park here, he or she would see a church, a parish house and a parish centre that was created at the same time. Nothing could be further from the truth, as the church and the presbytery were built almost 20 years earlier.
As I move to a conclusion, I want to reflect on the most significant part of his ministry in the light of the Gospel for today. For the first time on the occasion of the funeral of priests of the diocese, I have not opted for that part of the Sermon on the Mount where the Gospel lists the Beatitudes. Instead, I have opted for the story of the disciples on the road to a small village called Emmaus. The real point of that story is about the reality of the Lord’s rising from the dead.
The point of the story is that two confused followers of the Lord utterly dejected by his death. They meet a stranger on the road who asks them why they are so dejected. When the stranger hears what they have to say, he then re-interprets for them their own scriptures. As he moves to go on, they persuade him to stay with them for an evening meal and they recognise the risen Lord at the breaking of the bread.
But that is not why I have chosen the Gospel for today for his funeral Mass. My reason for doing so is the opening words of the stranger on the road. What the stranger does is to try and identify with a difficulty that the two men have. He asks them what is their problem. That is not evangelisation. It is called pre-evangelisation.
That was Fr. Curley’s greatest gift. He had a wonderful talent of relating to people with a great deal of simplicity. He was at ease with the important people, as well as the poorest of people. There were no curves in his life, as he always lived along very straight lines. What I mean by that is that if anyone had made a mistake, the remedy was simple. The remedy was to repent and move on without dwelling on the past. The means for doing so was ever available, repentance and the support of the other sacraments to help all to face the future.
But he knew that this was not a formula that all might be able to follow. But he offered that formula for the people of this parish over his time here. As I end, there is something else that I want to say. It will be in his own words. Let me express it for you. Now I quote. ‘it never crossed my mind that I would die before my friend, Bishop Devine, I never thought that it would be more likely for the Bishop to be attending my funeral, rather than me attending his funeral. That has not proved to be the case. Whatever good things that the Bishop may say about me, there is only one thing I ask of you today, that you pray for me’.
That we now do as we say together, ‘Eternal rest grant unto him 0 Lord and let perpetual light shine on him. May he rest in peace. Amen.