Peter Curtin died on All Souls’ Day. He attended daily Mass at Saint Andre Bessette Church (The Downtown Chapel) in Portland, Oregon for over 30 years. His life was devoted to Jesus and the Eucharist. He prayed fervently. He loved the staff and he changed our hearts.
Peter nicknamed me, “Ronnie the Kid”, when I met him in 2002. The name stuck for the eleven years we were together at the chapel. His name marked his seat in the last row of pews near the door. On most days, Peter was the one who presided over the actions, the harshness and the beauty of the people during Mass. He welcomed everyone through the chapel doors with his iconic, “I love you!”
Peter prayed out loud everyday during the Universal Prayers. He prayed for the things he needed such as the ability to take the cap off the shampoo when he would take a shower on Tuesdays. He prayed for people and his apartment, his dentist and his ability to get up on time in the morning. Peter and Jesus were linked together. His ability to be honest in prayer changed my life. I still cannot pray with such honesty and integrity in my own life. I am still learning from Peter. I really am the kid.
Peter offered the gifts of bread and wine at Mass every day. He offered his life to us in so many ways. He was one of two people who normally sat in adoration on Holy Thursday. He always questioned out loud whether or not his palm was blessed at the beginning of Mass on Palm Sunday. He was the first person to receive communion every day. After all, if you need communion like Peter did, you might as well be first. Every other person in the chapel always waited for him.
During Holy Week, Peter often sat in a chair outside the chapel and prayed in a loud, penetrating voice, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” He told me once that he sang a song from Holy Thursday 385 times before the celebration. I know this is true. He loved the liturgy because he wanted with all his heart to praise God.
One year, Peter asked me to copy his holy papers. I had no idea what his request meant. So he brought about 80 pages of notes one day to the chapel. I asked him if he wanted me to copy these papers from a copy machine. He told me no. He wanted me to copy his notes in my own handwriting exactly as they appeared on each page. I had no idea why. So for the next few weeks I wrote his notes in my own penmanship on quality paper. I put the notes, mostly psalm responses and his own prayers, in a binder and gave them to him. He prayed from his notes for many years.
One year on the day before Christmas, Peter came up to the ambo as I finished reading the gospel. Just before my homily he asked me two times if he had diarrhea. Then he asked me if everything was going to be all right. He carried the emotions of the people within his heart and stumbled about how to deal with them. I had to muster real hope within my heart in the center of homelessness, addiction and mental illness to say, “Yes, Peter, everything will be all right”.
In recent years, his lifelong medications for his mental illness broke down his body. The last time I saw Peter was when he blessed me after my last Mass at the chapel on Pentecost 2013. Now I know for sure he will be all right in the arms of Jesus.
Peter, pray for us.