Last updated September 2013.
Frank was a regular attendee at the grand rounds in child psychiatry during my residency. He was generally quiet but when senior guest speakers came to talk they would always enthusiastically embrace him. As a sign of his loyalty, at the annual meetings, he would invite me to join him and senior child psychiatrists in his suite for cocktails. In the early 70s there would be a who’s who of child psychiatrists invited; people like "Tilly" Krug and Maurice Friend.. I was always grateful to be included.
Frank Joseph Curran, a pioneer in child psychiatry was born in Minneapolis in 1904. He graduated from the University of Minnesota Medical School in 1928 and then interned at the University of Minnesota Hospital. Following internship he completed his psychiatric residency at Boston Psychopathic Hospital from 1929 to 1931 followed by a year of neurology training at Bellevue Hospital in New York City. He then joined the attending staff of Bellevue Hospital where he remained untill1945. It's noteworthy that in 1937 Frank initiated the first inpatient psychiatric service for adolescent patients at Bellevue Hospital.
In the late 50s the American Academy of Pediatrics wanted child psychiatry to become a subspecialty of pediatrics. This mobilized Frank Curran who sought the opinion of prominent child psychiatrists of the day via a questionnaire. The results were resounding support for inclusion of child psychiatry in psychiatry as the first subspecialty. In addition Frank was very instrumental in establishing the standards for training in child psychiatry. A necessary step before there could be Certification in Child Psychiatry.
In 1945 He became chief psychiatrist at St Vincent's Hospital in New York City but on March 9, 1947 Bishop Sheen delivered a Lenten sermon at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City. During which he said Freudianism was "escapism" and that it's based on "materialism, hedonism, infantilism and eroticism" among other things. Frank Curran appealed to Cardinal Spellman to refute what Bishop Sheen said to no avail. Others who similarly protested included Leo Bartemeier, Edward Streckler, and Francis Gerty.
Curran felt he had no alternative but to resign as he said his patients and those of the department of psychiatry felt they "could no longer come to psychiatric treatment or even consult a psychiatrist because they would be committing a sin if they did."
The day following his resignation Bishop Sheen attempted to temper his remarks by saying that he had been " misquoted" which prompted Lawrence Kubie, a leading member of the New York Psychoanalytic Institute to question Sheen's honesty. All this was played out in the New York Times, and Time magazine. Quite a brouhaha.
But the back story is very interesting and for that we have to go to Cuernavaca Mexico where a your Benedictine monk decided to have all monks psychoanalyzed, prompting many to leave the religious life and in many instances their faith.
In a review of Ruben Gallo's book "Freud's Mexico: Into the Wilds of Psychoanalysis the reviewer observes "The most interesting part of the book has to do with the Belgian born Gregorio Lemercier, a Benedictine monk who in the 1940's created a scandalously swinging monastery in Mexico that included two full time psychoanalysts."
Now you have the rest of the story. Bishop Sheen conflated psychoanalysis and psychiatry and saw them as the Devil's work. Later the Vatican closed the monastery and liaised Lemercier.
Following his resignation Frank went to Charlottesville where he developed child psychiatry at the University of Virginia He remained there before returning to New York City in 1958. When Jerry Wiener was head of child psychiatry at St. Luke's Hospital, where I did my child residency, Frank Curran was a constant presence at Grand Rounds. I had no idea of all this at the time.
Frank Curran died March 11,1989 after being struck by a car.
By Jim Egan
P.S. It took St Vincent's Hospital 8 years to find a prominent Catholic psychiatrist who would accept the position.
American psychiatry after World War 11 ads; Roy W Menninger, John C Nemiah Am Psych Press 2000
Psychology and Catholicism Robert Kugelmann Cambridge U press 2011
Progress in Certification of Child Psychiatrists Frank J Curran Southern Medical J. 1960
Obituary New York Times, March 11 1989 Franck J Curran
Review Freud's Mexico; Modernist Cultures 2012