A never-ending vocation of service

Story and Photos by

Jerry Circelli

Correspondent

Fr.-Curtsinger---Chris-_-Father-WEB.jpg

At age 99, Fr. George Curtsinger continues to honor Christ. His caretaker, Chris Wallace, is dedicated to helping the priest carry out his continuing mission to serve the Church.

In his 2014 Lenten message, Pope Francis said he was inspired by the words of Saint Paul in his letter to the Corinthians: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9).

Like the apostle Paul, Pope Francis encouraged the faithful to be generous in helping those in poverty. The pope said he would pray that “each individual member of the faithful and every Church community will undertake a fruitful Lenten journey.”

Putting this call into action and coming into alignment with it have come in many creative ways, not the least of which is exemplified by 99-year-old Father George Curtsinger and his caregiver Chris Wallace.

For nearly 100 years, Fr. Curtsinger has enjoyed a fullness of life that can come about only when a man is truly filled with the Holy Spirit. His long and accomplished ministry began after his ordination in 1952 and predates the formation of the Diocese of Fort Worth by 17 years. Fr. Curtsinger has always remained driven to serve the Lord, even into his advanced old age.

His latest project, undertaken with Wallace, involves putting together and handing out small but useful items to the homeless. Their project was launched during this Lenten season, and they hope to continue it into the future.

“It’s always a challenge when you see someone who is clearly homeless and you don’t know how you can help them,” Wallace said. In addition to pointing people in the direction of agencies that can offer assistance, Wallace plans to hand out the supply bags to the homeless on behalf of Fr. Curtsinger.

Wallace said in each bag is a sealed jar of peanut butter, a bottle of water, a toothbrush with toothpaste, lip balm, soap, hand sanitizer, toilet paper, socks and underwear.

“We wanted to keep it simple,” Wallace said, adding that if other people consider the same type of gesture, they could keep a supply bag or two at the ready and hand them out when the need arises.

Nancy Eder, who serves as diocesan school nurse consultant and health advocate to priests, was impressed when she visited Fr. Curtsinger recently and saw Wallace working on the supply bag project under the watchful eye of the retired priest.

“My reaction was, ‘What a great thing you and Father are doing,’” Eder said. “They are both very humble and they live very humbly. I think they are living out the Gospel and living out Pope Francis’ mission to serve the poor.”

“I truly think it is good for all of us to serve the poor,” she added. “It’s good for us to take a step back and find ways to help those who have less than we do. When we see what Chris and Father are doing, their mission inspires us — Fr. Curtsinger is a retired priest, he’s 99 years old, and he is still serving the people.”

Fr.-Curtsinger---Bags-WEB.jpg

In keeping with the Pope Francis’s Lenten message to serve the poor, Fr. Curtsinger and Chris Wallace have taken up a humble project to offer basic goods to the homeless.

Although he has limited mobility and speech these days, Fr. Curtsinger remains dedicated to service and is aware of what is going on around him. That is evident as he frequently affirms his support for Wallace, not only for getting him though each day, but also for helping him stay in close contact with the world.

“You’re doing a good job” and “you’ve done well,” are words Fr. Curtsinger conveys to Wallace many times throughout the day.

Wallace often drives Fr. Curtsinger to nearby parks in Fort Worth — the Botanical Gardens and Forest Park are among his favorites — to be among people and witness the natural wonders created by God.

Nature has long held a fascination for Fr. Curtsinger. His detailed photography of flora and fauna have been on display at art galleries, compiled in photography collections, and included in a poetry book. Sixteen years ago, Fr. Curtsinger and his love for photography were the subjects of a 1998 Fort Worth Star-Telegram feature written by Jim Jones and distributed worldwide by the Associated Press.

The writer said of Fr. Curtsinger, age 83 at the time, “He’s been shooting pictures for more than 50 years. And his photographs — bare trees seen through mist, birds on a moonlit night, Spanish horses leaping in midair, brilliant splashes of color from yellow flowers — are displayed in homes in Texas and around the world.”

Fr. Curtsinger’s “photographic excellence,” Jones wrote, comes from “an innate artistic sense,” and what another person called “a spiritual center” at the heart of his work.

Renee Johnson is well aware of Fr. Curtsinger’s artistic talent, not only in photography but in music as well. “He’s a classically trained pianist,” Johnson said. She described the powerful music the priest once made with his Steinway grand piano as “majestic, strong, and uplifting.” She added, “He could play Bach, Brahms, Beethoven; you name it, he played it.”

Johnson met Fr. Curtsinger in the 1980s, during the priest’s 30-plus years of chaplaincy at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Fort Worth. Her husband had served on the board of the directors at the hospital, and Johnson, not a Catholic at the time, quickly grew to admire the priest and his ministry. In 1992, she was accepted into the Catholic Church, inspired by the example of Christ she saw in Fr. Curtsinger.

“He’s been a remarkable friend and has been a source of spiritual guidance for me,” Johnson said.

“Listening to his homilies, I was just astounded,” recalled Johnson. “He could say in just three sentences a whole year’s worth of thoughts. You would just be awed by how succinct, but enormous, his homilies were. He has always been a remarkable man and I’ve never met anybody like him.”

In addition to three decades of service at St. Joseph’s hospital, which has now been demolished, Fr. Curtsinger’s 62 years of priesthood have included pastoral posts at numerous parishes throughout the dioceses of Fort Worth and Dallas. He also served as priest in residence at The College of Saint Thomas More in Fort Worth. In addition, Fr. Curtsinger has authored several works, ranging from inspirational spiritual topics to mental health issues to the finer points of playing the piano.

Blessed by a lifetime much longer than most people experience, Fr. Curtsinger continues to touch the lives of those around him.

“This is purely a gift,” said Wallace, about his work to help the priest continue his holy mission any way he can. “I’m simply blessed to be a part of his life.”

Fr.-Curtsinger---Chris-_-Father-BUTTON.jpgIn his 2014 Lenten message, Pope Francis said he was inspired by the words of Saint Paul in his letter to the Corinthians: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9). Putting this call into action and coming into alignment with it have come in many creative ways, not the least of which is exemplified by 99-year-old Father George Curtsinger and his caregiver Chris Wallace.

Published
Back