Fifty years of ministry

October 20 2020
Fr Chris McCurry

St Ann’s parish priest, Fr Chris McCurry, is retiring after 50 years of ministry.

As he steps away from the busyness and daily rhythms of parish life, Sarah Ball asked him to look back on his working life…

SB: When did you know you wanted to be a Catholic priest?

Fr C: I think I was about eight years old. I was an altar server at St Peter and St Paul in New Brighton – my family’s church. There was a team of three priests there. (He smiles) That was in the day when there were lots of Catholic priests.

There was the lovely, elderly little Monsignor Maurice Curran (perhaps I was reassured by his smallness of stature), Fr Peter O’Neill and Fr Maurice Abbott (brother of Fr Bob Abbott, my predecessor at St Ann’s, Cheadle Hulme). They were good men and inspiring. And I looked up to them.

SB: Did your family expect you to become a Catholic priest?

Fr C: Oh no, there was no expectation…in fact, my older brother was apparently the one who people thought might become a priest. I don’t know really how I felt about that…

SB: I was going to ask what you would have done if you hadn’t been called to be a priest. But if you knew from the age of eight I’m not sure that’s a relevant question…

Fr C: Well, people have asked me that many times over the years. And I think it would have been something in music.

SB: What age were you when you began your training?

Fr C: I went to Ushaw College in Durham at fourteen. The first few years were completing my normal school education but in the setting of a theological college. Then I went to the English College in Rome to complete my studies. Lots of theology and philosophy…

It was a really exciting time to be in Rome. The Second Vatican Council was just coming to an end. There was a sense that something exciting was happening. Pope John XXIII was “opening the windows and letting fresh air in.”

There was a real opening up of the Catholic Church at this time. The bit that got the ‘headlines’ was the English-izing of the Mass. I was always in favour of that. I love Latin but felt for many people it was like talking to God in an alien language.

SB: And after Rome?

Fr C: I was ordained at St Peter and St Paul, New Brighton in September 1970 and got my first job at St Joseph’s in Stockport. I was 26 years old and didn’t really have a clue. I’d been training for 12 years but being in a parish was very different. That’s something at which the Catholic Church has really improved, I think. Priests starting out today are much better prepared for parish life. They have met real people…

SB: Have you had a favourite part of parish life?

Fr C: It’s always been the people for me – my congregations.

(he pauses…) And funerals. It’s always been a privilege to conduct funerals for people I have known. To form a connection with the person’s family and to be able to preach the good news of the resurrection. That’s always been uplifting.

SB: After 50 years of ministry are you ready to retire?

Fr C: I think so. This year has been particularly hard with the coronavirus. I have realised I don’t have quite as much energy as I once did. I haven’t really had a day off since the beginning of it. We couldn’t properly celebrate my 50 years of ministry as we did my 40. But I can always come back to Cheadle Hulme to do that…

Read more of Fr Chris’ thoughts on being a parish priest at St Ann’s in Cheadle Hulme…