Father John J. Curran Bridge Name Change Possible for City Landmark

By Matthew Stone
Kennebec Journal
February 2, 2009

AUGUSTA — A bid to rename the city's Father John J. Curran Bridge will have its day before a legislative panel on Tuesday.

The Legislature's Transportation Committee will hold a public hearing on a bill sponsored by Rep. Patsy Crockett, D-Augusta, that proposes to rename the downtown span the Calumet Bridge at Old Fort Western.

Tuesday's public hearing follows a nearly yearlong campaign by advocates for victims of clergy sexual abuse to change the bridge name. The effort first focused on two scholarships named in honor of Curran and offered by Augusta-area institutions.

Both institutions, the University of Maine at Augusta and the Calumet Educational and Literary Foundation, changed their scholarships' names in June and July 2008. The Calumet Educational and Literary Foundation, however, denied the change to its scholarship name was connected to allegations of sex abuse by Curran.

Curran, who served as priest of St. Augustine Church in Augusta from 1962 to 1972, was posthumously accused of sexually abusing children. He died in 1976, two years after the downtown bridge was dedicated in his honor.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland has said it would bar Curran from ministering if he were alive today.

Diocesan officials have also said they would request that the Vatican remove him from the priesthood.

In July, Augusta city councilors kicked the name-change effort into high gear when they passed a unanimous resolution calling for a new name. The resolution came weeks after the University of Maine at Augusta and the Calumet Educational and Literary Foundation changed names of scholarships they offered in Curran's honor.

The "Calumet Bridge at Old Fort Western" name connects Augusta's Franco-American heritage with the city's English past, Crockett said in December 2008.

"It bridges that significance between the east side and the west side of Augusta," City Councilor Patrick Paradis said in a December 2008 interview.

A calumet, which originates from a French-Canadian word, is an American Indian tobacco pipe used on ceremonial occasions, especially in gestures of peace.

Le Club Calumet, Augusta's 900-member Franco-American organization, endorsed using "calumet" as part of the bridge's new name, said Patrick Boucher, the club's president.

Old Fort Western director and curator Jay Adams described the proposed name as "historically appropriate" in a December interview.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland said in July it would support changing the Curran bridge's name.

Matthew Stone — 623-3811, ext. 435


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