Applause, laughter, tears mark funeral of pioneering Alaskan Archbishop

A pall cloth of cream and red brocade draped the coffin holding the body of late Anchorage Archbishop Francis T. Hurley in Our Lady of Guadalupe Co-Cathedral on Jan. 22. At 2 p.m. the packed parish grew silent as the lone voice of Buz Daney rose in lament in a Native memory song. Daney beat a single skin drum.

Then choir director Kevin Barnett prompted 61 musicians from across the archdiocese to lead the assembly in singing “Lift High the Cross.”

The scent of sacred incense filled the gathering space as altar servers, deacons and nearly three dozen priests from across Alaska and several other states began their procession to the altar. Juneau Bishop Edward Burns, Fairbanks Bishop Chad Zielinski, St. Cloud, Minn., Bishop Donald Kettler and Great Falls/Billings, Montana Bishop Michael Warfel followed.

Anchorage Archbishop Roger Schwietz completed the procession.

“We have come to bid farewell to Archbishop Francis Hurley…and to send him home,” he told the assembled mourners to begin the funeral Mass of the much beloved prelate.

Father Steven Moore, pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe, greeted those who travelled many miles, including several members of the Alaska congressional delegation and Donna Walker, wife of Alaska Governor Bill Walker and Ermalee Hickel, our Lady of Guadalupe parishioner and wife of late Governor Wally Hickel. Clergy from other denominations were also in attendance — Alaska Orthodox Bishop David Mahaffey and Episcopal priest Father Norman Elliott.

Father Moore welcomed Archbishop Hurley’s family, and invited his nephew, Jay Hurley to speak.

Jay Hurley first thanked those who cared for his “Uncle Frank” in his declining years — a service which provided his family with “great peace of mind.” He acknowledged the care and dedication of Joann White, who was the archbishop’s longtime secretary, confidante and close friend — an acknowledgement met with a standing ovation.

Jay Hurley eulogized his uncle, noting that Archbishop Hurley’s mother worried when she discovered her son had learned to fly a small plane in order to travel to far-flung parishes in Alaska.

Jay Hurley said Archbishop Hurley personified the dream of Alaskan poet Robert Service who wrote, “Send us men to match our mountains.” He was, as Jay Hurley said, “supremely balanced, open and receptive to individuals. He made the church real and alive…he brought vision to his ministry…constantly doing what the Holy Spirit prompted him to do.”

Following the eulogy, the Mass of Christian Burial continued with a reading from the Book of Revelation and its promise of a new heaven and a new earth. A reading from the Second Letter to the Corinthians, reminded: “although our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.”

The Gospel of St. Luke related the story of the two travellers to Emmaus, and the passion that was burning within them as they listened to Jesus, only fully recognizing him in the breaking of the bread.

In his homily, Father Moore reflected on such passion as he remembered the life and service of Archbishop Hurley. He said that in the moment that passion and zeal are born, people are lifted up and see capabilities they never knew existed and couldn’t see for themselves. He spoke of Hurley’s many accomplishments, such as the establishment of homeless shelters, which could not have happened without the help of many people he brought into his work.

“He had an ability to involve others in things he was passionate about” and added, “the passion was born from a deep, abiding faith in God…a durable and practical faith born of his Irish-American heritage.”

Father Moore recounted Archbishop Hurley’s engagement in the lives of those around him and how he loved to argue.

“Arguing is the way the Irish express affection,” he said with a smile.

Father Moore spoke of his genuine friendship and long nights of discussion with friends at Archbishop Hurley’s house, especially after major events in the archdiocese.

Visibly moved with emotion, he stated, “I think that, today, tonight, I will miss that the most.”

Before the final commendation, 96-year-old Episcopal Pastor Norman Elliot spoke — to the delight and laughter of the assembled — of his many years and experiences with Archbishop Hurley, and his passion for ecumenism. He told how he and his longtime friend saw their respective faiths as “two bundles of water” a metaphor that took form in two bottles of water from the Tiber River in Rome and the Thames River in England respectively, he had given to Archbishop Hurley. Their hope was to eventually pour their contents into Ship Creek to symbolize their two churches reuniting again. Pastor Elliot’s prayer was “that the day will come when we can and will pour that water.”

Following the sacred liturgy, a reception, hosted by the Catholic Daughters of America was held in the Lunney Center where attendees gathered to share memories, enjoy old photos and voice their deep respect and love for the man whose life they celebrated.

A friend of 22 years, Margaret Heatwole of Holy Cross Church, spoke of how widely known Archbishop Hurley was. She recalled a visit she made to Magadan, Russia, where Archbishop Hurley had established a mission parish. She told a Magadan taxi driver she was from Anchorage, he asked her, “Do you know Frank?”

Kathleen Tarr, a recently baptized Catholic and member of Holy Family Cathedral met Archbishop Hurley after he retired. A long-time Alaskan, Tarr described him as a part of the fabric of Anchorage who knew people from all walks of life.

“The man was gregarious, extroverted, with a big warm Irish heart that everyone responded to, even atheists,” she said. “He was a bridge builder.”

Click here to view a photo gallery from this event.

'Applause, laughter, tears mark funeral of pioneering Alaskan Archbishop'
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