Curtis, Alfred Allen

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Second bishop of Wilmington, Del.; b. Rehoboth Del., July 4, 1831; d. Baltimore, Md., July 11, 1908. His father, an Episcopalian, conducted a country school, where Curtis received his only formal education. Curtis taught school at Princess Anne, Md., from 1849 to 1855, when he began to study for the Episcopal ministry. William Rollinson Whittingham, Episcopal bishop of Maryland, ordained him in 1859, and he was given assignments in Baltimore, Frederick, and Chestertown, Md. In 1862 he became rector of Mt. Calvary Church, Baltimore, where he abolished the system of pew rent and founded St. Philip's, a mission for African Americans. He began to lead an ascetical life and to make a close study of Scripture and the Church Fathers. In December 1871 he resigned as rector and went to England, where, unswayed by the arguments of leading Anglican divines, he was received into the Catholic Church by Cardinal John Henry Newman on April 18, 1872. Acting on Newman's advice, Curtis returned to Baltimore and entered St. Mary's Seminary in the fall of 1872. He was ordained on Dec. 19, 1874, by Abp. James Roosevelt Bayley. While assigned to the cathedral staff, he served as secretary to Bayley and his successor, Cardinal James Gibbons. Curtis helped to organize the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore (1884), during which he was secretary and theologian to Abp. Charles John Seghars of Oregon City.

In June 1886 Curtis was chosen to succeed Thomas A. Becker as bishop of Wilmington. He was consecrated in Baltimore by Cardinal Gibbons on Nov. 14, 1886. Curtis journeyed regularly to every section of his diocese, preaching, giving missions, and lecturing in hired halls. He built churches in a dozen country towns and founded parishes and six parochial schools in his see city. Pleading ill health, Curtis resigned on June 10, 1896, becoming titular bishop of Echinus. He remained as administrator apostolic until the arrival of his successor, John J. Monaghan, on May 10, 1897. Curtis then retired to Baltimore, taking up residence with Cardinal Gibbons and acting as his vicar-general.

Bibliography: Sisters of the Visitation, Wilmington, Del., Characteristics of Right Reverend Alfred A. Curtis (New York 1913). j. t. ellis, The Life of James Cardinal Gibbons, 2 v. (Milwaukee 1952). Archives, Diocese of Wilmington.

[e. b. carley]