By Fr Donal O’Dea
The parish of San Roque, San Felipe, Zambales, in the Diocese of Iba, sponsored a
memorial Mass, dinner and program for the late Fr John Curry on 16 January. This
was a gift of the pastor, Fr Jaime F. Escurzon, the parish pastoral council, the
principal, faculty and students of St Columban's Montessori School, the alumni
association and other friends.
Bishop Florentino G. Lavarias of Iba was the main celebrant, with eight
Columbans and five diocesan priests concelebrating. Other diocesan priests
joined later in the program.
Fr Donal ODea in his homily told how Father John, only 24 and newly arrived in
the Philippines, became pastor of this predominantly Aglipayan Parish in January
1952, replacing Fr Dermot Woods, his classmate, who left due to ill health after
two months. Father John had no language study or orientation. Though he left the
parish in 1959 and the Philippines in 1988 because of his health, he is still
remembered as a dynamic, zealous and inspiring pastor, who revitalized the
parish, especially through the development of the youth.
He opened St Columbans High School in 1955, against much opposition from an
existing high school. A court case against him led to a landmark decision in
education – parents have the right to the school of their choice for their
children. All this was done with very limited funds.
Father John never forgot the people who helped him, and inquired about them to
the end of his life and was generous. He left his heart in San Felipe, bit it
was large enough to enable him to continue with the same zeal wherever he worked
Dinner was served at the covered court of the school, while the program of
tributes took place on the stage. It opened with an interpretive dance prayer
and song from the school, followed by inspiring tributes from former principals
and parishioners led by Mayor Edilberto Abille, who recalled his wedding
officiated by Fr Curry. Sr Yolanda Causing, a Holy Spirit Sister and one of the
original teachers in the school, told how his life had inspired her vocation.
The Bishop, who had never met Father John, remarked that he had the gift of
communicating to others that they were important and of value, and this inspired
them to respond.
Fr Jaime F. Escurzon told how Father John had encouraged him to become a
diocesan priest. The first priority of the Columbans, the missionary said, was a
On behalf of the Columbans, Fr Patrick O’Donoghue, Regional Superior, thanked
all and hoped many would be inspired to follow Father John.
Fr John Griffin, a contemporary of Fr Curry, and a former pastor of San Felipe,
received an email in New Zealand from the alumni in California telling him of
the Mass. He then emailed Fr Donal O’Dea to tell him, and to ask him to
represent Fr Mal Sherrard, another old Zambales hand from New Zealand, and
himself at the Mass. The alumni in California are also having a memorial Mass in
San Diego, as is his native parish of Knock, Ireland. Fr Silverio Deltour CICM,
a friend who had worked in the Diocese of Iba, sent his condolences. His health
prevented him from attending
In 1952, Zambales was part of two dioceses, with 14 parishes and two high
schools, all staffed by Columbans. Today there are 23parishes, three colleges,
17 high schools and nine elementary schools, all but one staffed by priests of
the Diocese of Iba.
The Columbans continued the story-telling later that evening in Immaculate
Conception Parish, Barretto, Olongapo City, the only remaining Columban parish
in the diocese.
May Father John Curry’s restless and impulsive heart be at peace.