Peter Curtin, 1954-2016

C.S.C. Profile: An Unsheltered Heart

Peter Curtin, 1954-2016


“Peter” Finger Painting: Ronald Raab, CSC

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.

17 thoughts on “Peter Curtin, 1954-2016

  1. What a blessing to read this. We serve downtown Hartford, and several “Peters” worship with us. One woman, L, was especially devout and caused me to pay more attention to the Stations as she walked around and around them.

  2. I only attended the Downtown Chapel a few times during the period I worked downtown, and I clearly remember Peter. He was memorable. May he rest in peace with the God he loved.

  3. Wow, thank you Fr. Ron. Imagine the joy when God’s arms spread and welcomed Peter, “I love you Peter Curtain.” More likely shouted, “I love you Peter Curtain.”
    Indeed, Peter, pray for us.

  4. It’s amazing how your stories are exactly the ones I would quote. I feel privileged to have known him.

    Peter was a challenge. His open and uncontrived manner could be off putting, not to mention his disregard for personal hygiene. Who is this who stands in front of me and demands that I be present in this moment with him? Doesn’t he have the common courtesy to tone himself down? No, he doesn’t. Being in his presence during petitions was like being with someone who is naked – isn’t this too personal? I’m not sure I should be witnessing this … but in that there was an invitation to realize I was naked too. I may be able to hide it in ways that clothe it, but deep down I have those same simple concerns that I need to take to God.

    After we left Portland I had a vivid dream that still is fresh. I entered the chapel and was greeted by Peter, but a Peter unburdened by mental illness. He gave me a big hug and explained to me how he was there to help and protect us. I sobbed in his arms.

    Somehow it makes me feel better that Peter is in heaven ahead of this election. It seems like we are uniquely in need of his intercession.

    Peter Curtin, please pray for us.

  5. Such a vivid and lovely reflection, Ron. Peter was a very special person and truly changed those of us who knew him. His presence has been missed since he could no longer attend mass. But Jesus has welcomed him into his arms…

  6. Thank you. For me one of the signs of Christ’s presence in the Chapel, was the acceptance by the Community of Peter with his all his quirks. I am blest that I knew him and enjoyed his loud announcement of my nickname “Joe Kennedy” whenever I came into the Chapel. Peter symbolized love. His greeting “I love you” was often the voice of Jesus from the back pew.

  7. All beautiful comments.I have attended the downtown Chapel a few times,but..I did not know this gentleman,;I respect that you all loved him as Jesus loves us all….God bless you for your insights. I pray he is resting in peace.

  8. Ron, Peter was truly one of God’s treasures! He will be missed by all who knew him at the downtown Chapel (the Red Doors).

  9. Every church should have a Peter. When I would come to mass and Peter said “I love you” I just knew it was God speaking through his gentle soul.

  10. Peter was one of God’s angels amongst us! His life and love were a daily homily for me as I attended Mass with him in Old Town, talked with him on the phone or visited him at Laurelhurst. He will be missed! He taught me many things, but the one thing I remember most was his exuberant greeting whenever he saw anyone! He would call everyone by name and tell them he loved them! What better greeting is there than that? Rest In Peace, our friend!

  11. Hi, Father Ron:

    Thank you for your kinds words and reflections on Peter. You write of your visits with Peter just as I have witnessed you being with him. My brother taught everyone he met so much. And you have put those lessons into words for us. Such a gift. Thank you.

    Not long after he lost the use of his legs, Peter told me of a recurring dream. He was younger, full of life and abandon, and was running across the grassy hills at Laurelhurst Park. He said he felt happy. I imagined the smile and joy on his face in those dreams. And I take comfort in knowing that he is now running through the grass with Jesus, hand in hand.

    You won’t be surprised by Peter’s last words. The night nurse had checked in on him an hour or so before he died, and as she was leaving, Peter called out, “I love you!”

    Yes, pray for us, Peter. And thank you, Father Ron.


  12. I never met Peter, I’ve never even been to Oregon, but I read his story on this blog. Today as I walked to the courthouse, I stepped aside on the sidewalk to let a woman pushing a shopping cart pass. She stopped and told me that she loved my brightly colored computer bag. I thanked her and as she moved along, she stopped again. “If you have any time “, she said, “will you think of me”? And then it happened! The Peter I never met touched my heart! “Yes”, I said, ” I will think of you and I will pray for you ” And in Peter’s name, I have and I will.

  13. So sorry for the Curtin family. I only gathered with Peter several times, but his impression was everlasting. Patrick Mackin

  14. As I reflect on Peter’s impact on my life I realize he brought me healing. The light he held in the darkness that surrounded him was miraculous and shown so brilliantly. He had an impact on all who met him and his story will continue to shine the light where it is needed. Thank you Peter.

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