Melbourne News

From an early vocation to a late call

Monday 15 December 2014
By Fiona Basile, Kairos Catholic Journal
TERRY Curtin was eight years old when he first ‘sensed’ his vocation, that there was ‘something whole’ that he wanted to do with his life.

It was a sense that saw him enter the regional seminary in Werribee aged 18, and which now, at 69, has seen him appointed by Pope Francis on 7 November as Auxiliary Bishop of Melbourne for the Northern Region. It follows almost three years as Episcopal Vicar for the Eastern Region; he has been a monsignor since 2012.

Mgr Curtin was born in Cremorne, Sydney, in 1945, to Desmond and Nancie Curtin; he had a younger brother Tony, who died five years ago of breast cancer, the same disease that claimed his mother in February 1956—Terry was 10 and Tony, eight; they were living in Sydney at the time.

Reflecting on his early call, Mgr Curtin said his father always had a deep faith and he was blessed in his godmother Anne Imray, who was a long-time friend of his mother and grandmother, and the only Catholic they knew. ‘She was a beautiful presence in my life and made the vestments for my ordination.’

Following their mother’s death, the boys were enrolled at St Kevin’s in Toorak, where they completed their schooling. Terry matriculated in 1963 and entered the seminary in 1964. ‘When I told my mother’s sister that I was going to enter the seminary, I wondered what she’d think,’ Mgr Curtin said. ‘She said: “I’ll tell you something. When your father rang to tell me your mother had only six weeks to live, I cried, but he consoled me from what he believed. If you can do that for others, then that’s a good work.”’


While at the seminary, Mgr Curtin was sent to Rome for his theological studies where he ‘gate-crashed the Pope’. ‘My father worked for the Commonwealth Bank, and on a government trade mission had an audience with the Pope along with three other Catholics on the mission. I donned my black suit and collar and attended as their ‘translator’. Despite there being only four names on the official letter, I managed to convince the Swiss Guard that there were only four names because my father and I shared the same surname. Talk about game!’

The delegation was duly presented to Pope Paul VI. ‘He was quite beautiful to my father about giving his son to the Church,’ Mgr Curtin said. ‘He greeted the others, came back to us and held our hands. We just floated out of there!’

Bishop Curtin also met another Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, the day after he had defended his thesis, in December 1987—he had completed a Doctorate in Theology from the Gregorian University.

After his ordination, Mgr Curtin was appointed to St Anthony’s parish in Noble Park. ‘It was an absolute honeymoon,’ he said. ‘I loved the people, the interaction, and having been in Rome I could talk directly to the Italians. We had a parish of 2000 families with 1500 children in the school. It was full on and I loved it.’

Mgr Curtin was then appointed to St Mark’s in Fawkner. He was there only three months before being appointed by Archbishop Frank Little as head of religious education at Mercy Teachers’ College in Ascot Vale. ‘This was the one thing I’d ruled out when entering the seminary,’ he said. ‘I had decided not to go to the Jesuits because I didn’t want to teach and now I was being asked to teach! … [but] on the day of your ordination you lie down on the ground and put your trust in God. To not say yes would be to deny what was at the heart of my vocation: to serve.’

At Mercy College Mgr Curtin found he could teach after all. He worked in academia at Australian Catholic University for 28 years. He was then master of Catholic Theological College for eight years and has been head of Systematic Theology for the past four years.

On holidays when he received the call to see Papal Nuncio Archbishop Paul Gallagher in Canberra, he wondered if it was to do with the bishop appointment, something he had ruled out due to his older age.

He said: ‘On being told, I thought, “Pope Francis has appointed you, how can you say no?”’

In his acceptance letter to the Pope, Mgr Curtin wrote: ‘I will do all I can to support the Archbishop and the Church of Melbourne in spreading the Good News and the joy of the Gospel.’

As bishop, Mgr Curtin hopes to give the best he can in the time he has ‘under God’s grace’. ‘I’d like to be listening, to be encouraging, and I would hope in the interaction with people, under the Holy Spirit, that our combined wisdom would give us the best way forward.’

Mgr Curtin said his bishop’s motto was clear: ‘When the Easter candle is carried into the darkened church, there is a really beautiful moment when the priest sings, “Christ our Light!” That’s my motto and that’s what I would like to work from.’

Photo by Fiona Basile, Kairos Catholic Journal


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