Father George Curtsinger, oldest priest of the diocese, dies at the age of 99

By North Texas Catholic Staff

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Fr. Curtsinger in this undated photograph. (Photo courtesy of Thompson’s Harverson & Cole)

Father George Curtsinger, the oldest priest of the Diocese of Fort Worth, passed away Thursday, Aug. 14. A Vigil was held Sunday, Aug. 17 at Thompson’s Harveson & Cole Funeral Home, and the Mass of Christian Burial was celebrated Monday, Aug. 18 at St. Patrick Cathedral in Fort Worth. Fr. Curtsinger is interred at Mount Olivet cemetery.

The second of eight children, George Curtsinger was born Jan. 24, 1915, in Dallas, the son of Eugene C. Curtsinger and Josephine Bomba Curtsinger. In a 1994 interview with the North Texas Catholic, he recalled that he had suffered from poor health as a young child.

“I was baptized when I was born because they didn’t think I would make it,” he said. His father owned a gasoline service station and auto repair shop, and moved the family to the Pleasant Grove area of Dallas in 1919. The family attended St. Edward Church in Dallas.

His sister, Mary Rose Curtsinger Wright of Dallas, was the youngest of the eight children. She has fond memories, she said, of her older brother’s “tremendous” musical talent, and his generosity in sharing his deep love of classical music.

“He was several years older than I, and he was attending Southern Methodist University (SMU) and living with my grandmother in Dallas, studying piano at the university and also teaching piano lessons,” she recalled. “I attended St. Edward’s Academy, and I would walk over to my grandmother’s house after school, and he would give me piano lessons. I still have the upright piano that he played.”

By that time, George Curtsinger had graduated from St. Joseph’s Academy in Dallas in 1931, and had briefly attended seminary at the Jesuit religious order’s St. Charles College in Grand Coteau, Louisiana. “I was very frail,” he later explained. “The novice master said had he seen me, he would have rejected me before I ever came.”

In 1945, still yearning to fulfill his vocation to the priesthood, the young pianist joined the Order of Discalced Carmelites in San Antonio. Two years later, he continued his studies in Oklahoma City, where he lived from 1947 to 1953, and was ordained to the priesthood as a Discalced Carmelite on Oct. 11, 1952 at Little Flower Church in Oklahoma City. He was incardinated into what was then the Diocese of Dallas-Fort Worth on Dec. 22, 1959.

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Fr. Curtsinger (far left) at his priestly ordination as a Discalced Carmelite on Oct. 11, 1952 at Little Flower Church in Oklahoma City. (Photo courtesy of Renee Johnson)

The young priest first served in the diocese as an associate pastor at Sacred Heart Parish in Wichita Falls, December 1956 to June 1957. He then served at St. Anthony Parish in Longview, June to November 1957, and as a chaplain at St. Joseph Hospital in Fort Worth from 1957 to 1960. Fr. Curtsinger served as associate pastor at Blessed Sacrament Parish in Dallas from 1960 to 1963, and as associate pastor at St. Pius X Parish in Dallas from 1963 to 1965. He received his first pastoral assignment in February 1965 at St. Michael Parish in McKinney. In September of that year, he was assigned to Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in the Oak Cliff area of Dallas, where he served until June of 1967, when he returned as chaplain of St. Joseph Hospital near downtown Fort Worth on South Main Street.

He later recalled that the 27 subsequent years spent in hospital ministry were “wonderful” years, during that time, he lived at the hospital in an apartment filled with his own hauntingly beautiful photographs, the mouth-watering smells of his gourmet cooking, and the music of his favorite classical composers — Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, and Schubert — which he played each day on his Steinway grand piano.

Catholics from around the Fort Worth area flocked to the hospital chapel to join him when he celebrated the Eucharist, said his longtime friend, Jackie Berry.

“I loved to go to Mass at the hospital, and the chapel was always packed,” said Berry. “He was an excellent homilist. He was very straightforward. He was so gentle, so likable. You could tell that he loved being a priest.”

Of special interest to many was his formidable talent as a photographer, added Berry, noting that her friend published a volume of poetry by St. John of the Cross, The Spiritual Catholic, which he had illustrated with his own photographs taken in Spain, Portugal, Greece, California, and areas within Fort Worth. Many of the photographs were taken during his years of travel with his brother, Eugene Curtsinger, Jr., an English professor and prolific writer who taught for 52 years at the University of Dallas.

A 1998 feature article, written by Jim Jones for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, described Fr. Curtsinger as “a gentle priest with a sharp eye for beauty.” The subject of the piece was the fourth showing of Fr. Curtsinger’s original photographs at the Henson-McAlister gallery and frame shop, on Seventh Street in Fort Worth. Fr. Curtsinger said that the late author and human rights activist, John Howard Griffin — author of the book Black Like Me — loaned him a camera and taught him basic principles of artistic photography.

According to the article, Fr. Curtsinger met Griffin at the Carmelite monastery in West Dallas in the early 1950s, during one of Griffin’s solitary retreats. “The two shared an interest in music, religion, and art that developed into a lifelong friendship,” wrote Jones.

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In this 2004 photo, Fr. George Curtsinger is joined by children from the Ball, Sustaita, Nelson, and Hinojosa families at one of the College of St. Thomas More’s regular Children’s Adoration services. (Photo by Kim Ball)

Yet another famous friend was the well-known concert pianist Lili Kraus, noted Jones, writing that Fr. Curtsinger studied with Kraus during her years teaching in Fort Worth. Kraus served as artist-in-residence and professor of piano at Texas Christian University from 1967 until 1982.

“He just had so many interests, and he was such a gifted person. He was good at everything. I feel so blessed to have had him for a friend, because I just learned so much from him,” reflected Berry.

After St. Joseph Hospital closed in 1994, Fr. Curtsinger began to serve as chaplain at what was then known as the College of Saint Thomas More in Fort Worth. After a brief stay at St. Francis Village, a retirement community in Crowley, he moved, at the invitation of then-president Dr. James Patrick, to live in an apartment on the College’s campus.

Dr. Patrick spoke with admiration of the impact the quiet priest had upon the tight-knit Catholic community. “He was such a saintly person, and a great blessing to the people of the College,” said Patrick. “He was an image of mercy and goodness, and the students loved him. He loved to entertain, and he enjoyed having people come into his home, so that he could cook for them and give them his homemade bread, which was delicious. Having him as an integral part of the campus was a happy situation, all the way around.”

Of the many gifts that his friend bestowed upon the College of Saint Thomas More, the most important was his commitment to prayer on behalf of the College, said Patrick.

“Starting in 1985, when he was still serving at the hospital, Father began the practice of praying publicly for the College, during his Masses,” recalled Patrick. “I always considered that prayer one of our most important assets. His support was unwavering.”

For a young man named Chris Wallace, Fr. Curtsinger’s gentle encouragement offered a source of support that grew into a close friendship. After meeting Father as a student at the College in 2004, Wallace gradually took on the role of the increasingly frail priest’s full time caregiver. When it became time for Fr. Curtsinger to move into a small rented home in 2010, Wallace moved with him, thus enabling the elderly priest to live the life that he loved — one that was filled with daily prayer and celebration of the Eucharist; classical music, good food, and the constant, supportive presence of a small circle of devoted friends.

“I’ve never been more convinced about someone’s sainthood,” mused Wallace. “He truly was so warm, with such a wonderful sense of humor, and he was just so loving, so patient, and so open.”

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This is the cover for the program commemorating Fr. Curtsinger’s 50th ordination to the priesthood.

Joining Wallace in caring for Fr. Curtsinger was Renee Johnson, a parishioner at Holy Family Parish in Fort Worth, who first met the priest in 1988 at St. Joseph Hospital, and St. Patrick Cathedral parishioners Francine and Jerrel Sustaita, who met him at the College in 1999. The Sustaitas, especially the five young children of the family, were extremely special to the gentle priest, said Johnson.

“He simply loved children,” she explained, recalling the last Mass that Fr. Curtsinger said in his home, just four days prior to his death. The man who was once considered too sickly to withstand the rigors of priesthood offered that Mass just a few months prior to what would have been his 100th birthday.

“The Sustaita family was there for the final Mass, and his voice was so strong; he was so alert, and he was so happy to be with the children,” said Johnson.

Reflecting upon her many years of friendship with her “spiritual advisor,” Johnson recalled the day that Fr. Curtsinger asked her to join him in prayer as his beloved piano was hoisted by crane into his new home in the second floor apartment. “Together, we knelt down as the piano was lifted into the air,” she said, laughing at the memory. “We were so thankful when it made it safely inside!”

She is deeply grateful, said Johnson, that, thanks to the kindness and generosity of the leadership of the Diocese of Fort Worth, her cherished friend was allowed to live simply, but independently, with the help of his caregiver, rather than being placed in a nursing home during the last four years of his life.

“All through his final years of diminishing health, and at the time of his death, he was cared for by so many wonderful people,” she explained, adding that many of his brother priests — led by Bishop Michael Olson — came to visit him in the hospital, as his long, productive life came to a peaceful end.

“So many people sat with him, prayed for him at his bedside, and brought him Communion. He was surrounded with love and peace at the hospital, and his passing was also filled with peace,” said Johnson. “It was a beautiful, holy transition.”

“In all of the years I have known him, I never heard him complain about anything,” said Jackie Berry. “I visited him in the hospital; he was still the same docile, kind, patient person, an example for all of us to look up to. So many people will miss him so very much.”

Fr. Curtsinger is survived by sisters Teresa Rossi of Canton, Ohio, and Mary Rose Wright of Dallas, and by several nieces and nephews and many close friends. Memorial gifts in his honor may be made to The Priests’ Care Fund of the Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth, 800 W. Loop 820 South, Fort Worth, Texas 76108.

See Also

A never-ending vocation of service

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.

Father George Curtsinger, the oldest priest of the Diocese of Fort Worth, passed away Thursday, Aug. 14. A Vigil was held Sunday, Aug. 17 at Thompson’s Harveson & Cole Funeral Home, and the Mass of Christian Burial was celebrated Monday, Aug. 18 at St. Patrick Cathedral in Fort Worth. Fr. Curtsinger is interred at Mount Olivet cemetery. The second of eight children, George Curtsinger was born Jan. 24, 1915, in Dallas, the son of Eugene C. Curtsinger and Josephine Bomba Curtsinger. In a 1994 interview with the North Texas Catholic, he recalled that he had suffered from poor health as a young child.

 

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