Alaskans of all stripes share stories of their ever-present Archbishop Hurley

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Late Anchorage Archbishop Emeritus Francis Hurley was renown for his ability to connect with Alaskans of all stripes. From the elevated wielders of political power to the down and out on the streets of Anchorage, he walked easily, and generously, into the lives of his fellow Alaskans. The following tributes are just a few of the many memories Alaskans have shared following Archbishop Hurley’s death on Jan. 10.

MISTAKEN FOR A CAB DRIVER

I recently met a man who told me that the reason he returned to the sacrament of reconciliation after many years of being away was because of the kindness and mercy extended to him once by Archbishop Hurley. He said, “That encounter of mercy changed my life!” Would that others might say the same about us one day: that a gesture of mercy we extended to another had changed their life! We have that opportunity every day in every encounter. I think Archbishop Hurley knew this to be true and lived accordingly.

I will always appreciate the confidence he had in me at a time when I lacked such in myself. I will always appreciate his phone call to me an hour before I celebrated my mother’s funeral Mass in Phoenix, apologizing for not being able to get a connecting flight from California in time to be present. I didn’t even know he knew my mother had died. I will always appreciate his self-deprecating humor when, upon arriving late to a banquet, he apologized for his tardiness by relating that he had stopped to give an inebriated man a ride to the Brother Francis Shelter. He said that upon arriving at the shelter the man did not recognize him as the archbishop and, after staring intently for some time at the numbers on his digital radio asked, ”So, how much is the cab fare?” Archbishop Hurley didn’t mind at all being mistaken for a cab driver! That is true humility.

I believe what was most important to Archbishop Hurley was not that he was an archbishop, but that he was a fellow traveler in this world, graced by God to be alive, and humbled to be able to serve someone in need. Thank you for your witness to mercy, Archbishop Hurley. May you rest in eternal peace.

— Fr. Tom Lilly, Pastor of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, Anchorage

‘GOD HITTING US OVER THE HEAD’

In 1981 a homeless man climbed into the dumpster at Holy Family Cathedral to keep warm. The next morning the garbage truck emptied the dumpster and, unknowingly, crushed the man to death. At that time there were few outreaches for the homeless in Anchorage. I was a volunteer at the cathedral for one of those outreaches — daily sandwich making. Shortly after this awful incident, I had lunch with Archbishop Hurley. “God was hitting us over the head,” I said. “We must do something.” And do something, he did. He persuaded two religious brothers Bob Eaton and Dave Sifferman, to come to Anchorage. They formed a dedicated group of supporters and, after many trials, began the Brother Francis Shelter, a warm haven for the destitute and addicted. The archbishop’s work did not end there. I was privileged to work with him and many others to create Clare House for women and children and Covenant House Alaska for runaway and throwaway youth. Because of Archbishop Hurley thousands of people have been and will be helped and cared for.

Two of many of his personal gifts to me were celebrating the funeral Mass for my mother in Alexandria, Virginia, and visiting my brother who suffered nine years with ALS before his death. His regular visits to my brother’s house in Virginia and the Veterans’ Hospital in Washington greatly helped my brother through that terrible disease. The staff at the hospital were greatly impressed that an archbishop from Anchorage was visiting Jim!

In the words of Saint Matthew’s Gospel: “Well done, good and faithful servant. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.”

— Bob Flint, Anchorage

MONSIGNOR MIX-UP

Once after Mass at St. Benedict’s in Anchorage, I asked Archbishop Hurley if he was a monsignor back in 1970. After he said yes, I explained why I asked the question. In the 1970 movie, “Pieces of Dreams,” a New Mexico priest falls in love with a social worker. His bishop assigns a Monsignor Frank Hurley to persuade the priest not to get married and leave priesthood. Archbishop Hurley chuckled and said he’d always suspected he was a fictional character.

— Geoff Kennedy, Anchorage

‘SEND THEM THE MONEY’

My late wife, Vicky, and I moved to Alaska from California to Anchorage in 1982. We joined Holy Family Cathedral’s choir for their Christmas Masses every year. Vicky was blind and volunteered in various agencies around town.

In late 1983 she had to have a new plastic eye. The traveling eye doctor was here for three weeks and wanted $1,000 — he wouldn’t take two installments of $500 or personal checks. With only $500 available, I asked the archdiocese for help — a loan. Archbishop Hurley’s secretary called me back and began to tell me how much three churches could loan me. Then she asked if I could wait on hold. Five minutes later, she said “Eric, we will send you a $1,000 check from the archdiocese.” That surprised me. I asked her how that happened. She said, “The archbishop walked by and heard me on the phone with the churches. He asked what I was doing. When I told him, he said, ‘I know those two. They’re good. Send them the money.’“

We received the check about three days later and gave the eye doctor his money. When I reimbursed the archdiocese, I sent Archbishop Hurley a thank-you note. He wrote back that he was “glad to help.” I hung that note in a frame in our apartment until Vicky died in 1998.

— Fr. Eric Wiseman, Valdez (Editor’s note: Fr. Wiseman was ordained to the priesthood following his wife’s death)

UNEXPECTED VISITOR AT THE DOOR

Our journey to Alaska was the most emotional and difficult move that we ever made. We arrived in Anchorage on August 2, 1992. Mt. Spur erupted shortly thereafter blanketing the city with dismal ash. Then it rained continually that late summer and fall. We were deeply grieving the loss of our many close friends back in Maryland. One day that fall my wife Maria Elena was overcome with grief and was crying on my shoulder in our home. The doorbell rang and she said sobbing, “It would be just my luck that that’s Archbishop Hurley.” She was reluctant to show how difficult it was at that time to be living here. I went to the door and, you guessed it, it was the archbishop! He was the perfect person to comfort Maria Elena, whose instinctive comment shows just how supportive and compassionate the archbishop was. She felt deeply loved by him. What is remarkable is that our experience was not unique. Archbishop Hurley loved and cared for everyone this way. Maria Elena and I were just two of the thousands of people whom the archbishop loved and cared for.

— Fr. Scott Medlock, Pastor of St. Patrick, Anchorage (Editor’s note: Fr. Medlock was a married Methodist pastor. When he converted to Catholicism he was granted permission by the Holy See to be ordained as a married priest for the Anchorage Archdiocese.)

‘TWINKLE IN HIS EYE’

In September of 1999, Francoise and I arrived in Alaska on a cold Saturday night on the 13th day of our 4,700-mile trip from Virginia to become Alaskans. The next morning we went to Sunday Mass at Holy Family Cathedral where Archbishop Hurley was presiding.

After Mass, downstairs at coffee and donuts, we chatted with Archbishop Hurley and were immediately struck with his warmth. We asked him if we could meet with him in his office. He said, “Sure, tomorrow morning at 9 o’clock.”

The next day he asked us what brought us to Alaska and we said, “ANWR!” He laughed in his good natured way and said, “ANWR, why ANWR?” We responded, “Because we are trying to open ANWR in the best and most beneficial two-trillion-dollar way for America, Alaska and wildlife.” Archbishop Hurley said that what we were doing was a good thing, and that he would pray for our success.

When I ran for the U.S. Senate in 2004 solely to open ANWR, Archbishop Hurley who had become our friend, encouraged me. Throughout my multiple attempts to be elected to the U.S. Senate, he kept telling me that I was doing a good thing and to keep at it. He was my brother Knight as well as my friend. The last time I saw him he said with his warm smile and a twinkle in his eye, “Keep running Ted, you’ll succeed one day!”

— Ted Gianoutsos, Anchorage

HE WAS INTERESTED IN ALL ‘FAITH FILLED PEOPLE’

All who encountered Archbishop Hurley for more than a handshake experienced his kindness, generosity and leadership. From my first days in Anchorage in the summer of 1997, Archbishop Hurley fostered my efforts as the Cardinal Newman Chair of Catholic Theology at Alaska Pacific University and occasionally asked my assistance on something for the archdiocese.

It was a wonderful working relationship that deepened over the years: Archbishop Hurley was an enthusiastic supporter of the Midsummer Light Bible Institute since its inception in 2002. He endorsed the many scholars I engaged to offer dozens of free public lecture over the past 19 years. He wholeheartedly supported my initiative to bring the Rev. William Stoeger, S.J., Ph.D. of the Vatican Observatory to APU in 2013.

The Archbishop often hosted a luncheon for these many speakers, including a lunch as recently as this past June. Guests would often tell me the archbishop was impressive, progressive and delightful. And so he was.

Archbishop Hurley’s endorsement and participation in the Cardinal Newman Chair’s “Engaging Muslims” program is illustrative of his magnanimity. After the Newman Chair received a gift from the Carr family to offer a community education program, Archbishop Hurley attended planning meetings designed to be inclusive on many Anchorage voices.

When it was decided to offer a year-long program featuring Muslim scholars and scholars of Islam, Archbishop Hurley developed a bond with the leadership of the Anchorage Muslim Community. He attended a number of Friday Jumu’ah services at the Islamic Community Center because he was sincerely interested in the lives of faith-filled people.

— Regina A. Boisclair, Cardinal Newman Chair at APU

A ‘GENEROUS’ SUPPORTER OF APU

Archbishop Hurley played an important role at Alaska Pacific University as an engaged and generous member of the board of trustees. Elected to the board in 1977, he served in that capacity until his death — 39 years! He was vice chairman of the board in 1987-88. Archbishop was deeply committed to the spiritual life of the university and played an active role in Larry Carr’s contributions to APU that endowed the Cardinal Newman Chair and funded the Engaging Muslims: Religion, Culture and Politics project in 2007. Every year we could count on receiving a personal check from him. I was extremely saddened to receive the news of his passing when I came to work on Jan. 11. As I sat in my office reminiscing and recalling the memories I shared with him over the years, I was told that we had just received an on-line contribution from the archbishop, his final contribution to APU. He was right there for us up until the very end. I will miss him and cherish the stories he shared with me, his sense of humor and his untiring service and compassion for the poor and those in need.

— Don Bantz, APU President

CHERISHED BY ALASKA’S MUSLIMS

Archbishop Hurley always greeted us with a warm smile and a firm handshake whenever he would pray with us and we felt his sincerity and kindness. He did that with everyone, regardless of religion or race. His friendship with the Alaskan-Muslim community will be remembered and will be cherished forever.

The first time I met Archbishop Hurley was at Alaska Pacific University. What brought us together was a program called “Engaging Muslims.” The kindness and charisma he brought to the program made it a success for all Muslims, Christians and Jews that were involved. I was honored to have several conversations with Archbishop Hurley, at the art-shop where I work at, over lunch, or over a cup of coffee.

His absence will be felt for years to come and the Muslim community will remember this great man and his exceptional personality. I can say for a fact that the city of Anchorage is a far better place because of Archbishop Hurley.

— Sam Obeidi, Anchorage (Vice President of Islamic Community Center)

HONORED FRIEND OF THE JEWS

I first met Archbishop Hurley when we worked with Shiloh Missionary Baptist Pastor Alonzo Patterson and Anchorage Presbyterian Fellowship Pastor Rick Benjamin on the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. memorial committee. Within minutes we were all on a first name basis with “Frank” leading the way in building us into a team. Over the next 15 years we worked on many projects together. The archbishop was there to help our congregation heal from an anti-Semitic attack. He was there for our community when, during an especially cold winter, he allowed the Brother Francis Shelter to put up a tent city on archdiocese property across from the Captain Cook Hotel until the governor opened up the National Guard Armory as a shelter. I was blessed that he put me on the board of Catholic Social Services which allowed us to work even more closely.

Archbishop Hurley was a man of faith, character and principle. When we disagreed he made sure it was about an issue, it was never personal and he was always respectful.

One of the greatest honors was when the archbishop emceed my going-away party. He made it a glorious event. As it concluded, he gave me a zucchetto. To this day I keep it in a place of honor in my study as a symbol of our friendship and the lessons he taught me about what it means to be a friend, co-worker and clergy.

Zecher Tzadik Livracha — May his righteous memory be a blessing.

— Rabbi Harry Rosenfeld (Former rabbi of Congregation Beth Sholom in Anchorage)

‘TO BE A GOOD BISHOP, GET YOUR PILOT’S LICENSE’

On behalf of the priests, deacons, religious and lay-faithful of the Diocese of Juneau, we mourn the death of Archbishop Francis T. Hurley, Archbishop Emeritus of the Archdiocese of Anchorage and the second Bishop of the Diocese of Juneau.

He faithfully served the church here from 1970 to 1976. In my conversations with him, he thoroughly enjoyed and appreciated all the people in the many villages and towns of Southeast Alaska. He founded our Catholic Community Service which is now the fifth largest nonprofit employer in Southeast Alaska.

When I was ordained a bishop for the Diocese of Juneau on March 3, 2009, I was honored and privileged to have Archbishop Hurley attend my ordination at St. Paul Cathedral in Pittsburgh. At the reception afterwards he cornered me and said, “Ed, if you want to be a good bishop, you will need to get your pilot’s license.” I looked at him and said “Archbishop, I don’t have the capacity to be a pilot.” To which he said, “I’m telling you, if you want to be a GOOD bishop, you will get your pilot’s license.” And, once again I responded, “Archbishop, I know myself very well and I know that I could never get a pilot’s license.” To which the good archbishop pressed even further, “Ed, I’m telling you, if you want to be a good shepherd to the people of God in Southeast Alaska you will get a pilot’s license!” To which I pointed at my chest while I said, “Frank, let me tell you something, I’m pro life! (pointing at my chest) I’m pro this life! I’m not getting a pilot’s license.”

It was evident to me that Archbishop Francis Hurley embraced the adventures, challenges, and joys of ministry within the church. May God welcome this good and faithful servant into his loving arms of mercy.

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord.

— Bishop Edward J. Burns, Fifth Bishop of the Diocese of Juneau

HE WAS EVERYWHERE BECAUSE HE LOVED US

Archbishop Hurley was everybody’s archbishop. He was at community events always giving the invocation and the convocation. He was at funerals and at baptisms. He was engaged in politics. He was engaged in the community. He touched the hearts of so many Alaskans around the state. All my memories of Archbishop Hurley include a beautiful smile. He loved people — all people — he loved life, and it showed.

Archbishop Hurley fit so perfectly with the Alaska way of life. Alaskans will remember him for his friendliness, his openness and his accessibility. He spoke the language of Alaska and embraced this state with generosity and graciousness. It seemed that he was everywhere. He learned to fly so that he could serve communities all across the state. And wherever he went people loved him. His contributions to the quality of life for the less fortunate was profound. Covenant House, the Brother Francis Shelter and Clare House leave a strong legacy for a man who truly lived the spirit and teachings of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

— Lisa Murkowski, U.S. Senator, Alaska


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