When something significant happens — something of historical note — we take notice. The death of Archbishop Francis Hurley, along with the prayers, rituals, funeral and finally his burial at the Cooper Landing cemetery of St. John Neumann Parish, was certainly one of those moments.
It is the first time that the Archdiocese of Anchorage witnessed the death and bid farewell to its retired archbishop through the church’s rituals and liturgies. This all happened just as we are about to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the Archdiocese of Anchorage on Feb. 9. It points to the fact that we are a young church, still being established through the grace of God and the great dedication of its people.
Many have commented on Archbishop Hurley’s impressive accomplishments throughout his long ministry as the second archbishop of Anchorage. They pointed out his many gifts and abilities, particularly in establishing the archdiocesan outreach and service to the poor and needy through Catholic Social Services as well as through Covenant House Alaska.
Beyond this, I have been struck by Archbishop Hurley’s life and choices. They have been a great tribute to Alaska. From the time he landed in Juneau in 1970 as a new bishop there and throughout his 24 years as archbishop of Anchorage, Alaska became his true home. The people of Alaska were the focus of his ministry and care. Learning how to fly a small plane, visiting villages and organizing care for those who worked in the bush, were an integral part of his life and ministry. He infused a pioneer life into this young church through expanding ministries, bringing in clergy and volunteers, founding parishes and in a particular way promoting the role of the laity in the church.
There is no doubt that Archbishop Hurley went though some very challenging times, the clergy abuse scandal perhaps being the most difficult. Through all, his love for Alaska and its people was steadfast. And Alaskans, rich and poor alike, were his deep concern.
As we bid farewell to our second archbishop, we pray that God continues to give us able ministers who will devote themselves totally to the people of this great state and archdiocese. With God’s help we will continue to mature in our faith and our effectiveness at introducing our people to Jesus Christ our Savior. It is He and He alone who is our only Lord — the one who can help us understand and live our dignity as we journey together to the goal of everlasting life.
May the fullness of that life, through the Mercy of God, be given to Archbishop Francis Hurley. May he rest in peace.
The writer is the archbishop of Anchorage, Alaska.