Rain fell heavily during a solemn Requiem Mass as a humble churchman of the 19th century was remembered nearly 140 years later for his simplicity and relative anonymity.
The rain outside the Basilica of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral in Lower Manhattan May 13 provided a fitting farewell for the 69-year-old Irish immigrant John Curry who, at age 5, was the youngest of the 15 official witnesses to the apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Joseph and St. John the Evangelist in Knock, Ireland, just as rain fell there on Aug. 21, 1879.
“Jesus, Mary and Joseph, St. John, they’re here, in the Communion of Saints,” said Cardinal Dolan, who served as principal celebrant and homilist, “as is the spirit of John Curry.”
Curry, the last surviving official witness of the apparition—he had died in 1943 without wealth or acclaim, and had been buried in an unmarked, communal grave on Long Island—was reinterred in the stately St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral Cemetery that surrounds the basilica immediately following the late morning liturgy.
“Now, at last, he’s in a dignified grave, worthy of a witness of the Apparition of Knock,” said a grand-nephew, 77-year-old Martin Curry of Ireland who, when his grand-uncle died, was in his fourth year.
The arrangement for the reinterment came about after Cardinal Dolan, while leading a pilgrimage to Knock, learned the story of Curry from the rector of the National Marian Shrine of Knock, Father Richard Gibbons.
Father Gibbons, a number of Curry’s relatives in Ireland, as well as other pilgrims from Ireland, attended the Mass and reburial. Cardinal Dolan had invited the faithful of the archdiocese to attend, and they did. The liturgy was also livestreamed on the internet.
Among the numerous clergy were Bishop John Barres and Auxiliary Bishop Robert Brennan of Rockville Centre and Msgr. Donald Sakano, pastor of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral. Also attending were archdiocesan officials; Little Sisters of the Poor; Barbara Jones, the consul general of Ireland in New York; leaders of the Irish American community, the Ancient Order of Hibernians, and the Knights of Columbus.
Father Gibbons, in his remarks, brought gentle laughter in sharing that a young Curry, in his first testimony about the apparition, recalled seeing “beautiful things and grand babies.”
Father Gibbons presented to Msgr. Sakano a portion of the original stone, from the original gable, of the apparition. Father Gibbons said he had also presented one to Cardinal Dolan.
“We are blessed to have him here as part of the story of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral,” Msgr. Sakano, in his remarks, said of Curry.
Cardinal Dolan, in his homily, recalled Curry as “a man whose only quiet boast was that he was an altar boy, from his childhood in Knock to his death at Sacred Heart Home with the Little Sisters of the Poor, rarely if ever missing daily Mass and Holy Communion.”
Curry was 25 years old when he came to the United States in 1897, according to biographical information provided by John Curry, another grand-nephew from Ireland. Two years later he left for England. He returned to America in 1911 and worked as a railway laborer in the Milwaukee, Wis., area before moving to New York in the 1920s. His last known occupation was as an attendant in the City Hospital on what was then Welfare Island, now known as Roosevelt Island. That job, Cardinal Dolan said in his homily, was an example of Curry’s faith in Jesus that “animated his tender care for the sick at the hospital for the destitute.”
He did not marry and in 1932, due to ill health, entered a home for the elderly, operated by the Little Sisters of the Poor, on East 70th Street in Manhattan. He died there in 1943.
Sister Carol Marie, L.S.P., said the Requiem Mass and reburial made for “a marvelous day—I was glad to be a part of it. I’m sure when John was dying, or even living, he never thought this day would come, that he would have this kind of a burial.”
Sister Sheila, L.S.P., gently touched Curry’s casket at the cemetery, where Irish bagpipes played “Amazing Grace.”
“We have a vow of hospitality and it carries us,” Sister Sheila said. “We bury our residents, we’re there with them while they’re dying. I really felt, that on the part of the Little Sisters, that I just say a last prayer for him.”
Neither sister was aware of the circumstances of how Curry came to be buried in the mass grave on Long Island.
The Little Sisters brought to the Requiem Mass a copy of the home’s registry that bore Curry’s name, and a picture of him there.
“My father would always make a point of going to the apparition church in Knock on the 21st of August every year, the anniversary of the apparition,” Martin Curry said. “To do that,” by horse-drawn carriage or taxi, “would be the equivalent of a month’s wages.”
The honor bestowed on their grand-uncle in the archdiocese is “a delight,” said 73-year-old John Curry, who was born six months after his grand-uncle died. “He was John Joseph Curry, and so am I.”
John Curry, who began research on his grand-uncle 50 years after his death, said he was representative of “so many Irish people who went to the States…and never came back. And the fact that he didn’t marry and didn’t have children, meant his name wasn’t carried on down. So that, in one sense, there are thousands of other Irish people like him.”
The reinterment of John Curry and the man himself, Father Gibbons said, shows “how humility can reach so many hearts.”