Anchorage Archbishop Emeritus Francis Thomas Hurley, the iconic prelate who led the Catholic Church in Alaska for three decades and was an indefatigable advocate of the poor, died peacefully on Jan 10 in his Anchorage home. He was two days shy of his 89 birthday.
“Today, in the death of Archbishop Francis Hurley, Alaska and the Archdiocese of Anchorage has lost a remarkable churchman who was a true pioneer in ministry,” Anchorage Archbishop Roger Schwietz said of his predecessor.
“As a gifted leader, he touched countless people, rich and poor alike and energetically promoted the welfare of the local Catholic church as well as the common efforts of our ecumenical partners,” Archbishop Schwietz added. “Through the establishment of Catholic Social Services, with its many agencies, Archbishop Hurley sought to care for the most needy and suffering in our community no matter what their religious background might be. May he rest in peace.”
The tall, gregarious Archbishop Hurley – with an intense, blue-eyed gaze, a ready smile and a keen memory for names – was familiar to Alaskans across the state. From 1970 to 1976, he headed the Diocese of Juneau and then the Anchorage Archdiocese until 2001 when he retired from active service and Pope John Paul II appointed Archbishop Schwietz to the office.
THE EARLY YEARS
Archbishop Hurley was born in 1927 to Mark Joseph and Josephine (Keohane) Hurley in San Francisco, Calif. He was one of five children.
In 1951, after completing seminary studies in Menlo Park, he was ordained a priest and assigned as assistant pastor of Holy Name Church in his home city. Later he taught at Serra High School for Boys in San Mateo.
The then Father Hurley conducted post-graduate studies in sociology – at Catholic University in Washington, D.C., and University of California at Berkeley.
From 1957 to 1970, he worked at the National Catholic Welfare Conference, later known as the National Conference of Catholic Bishops and now the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the consortium of Catholic bishops in the United States. There he helped the bishops craft their policy positions on education, and he served as associate general secretary of the conference.
‘FOR THE PEOPLE OF GOD’
In 1970, at the direction of Pope Paul VI, Father Hurley was selected to become a bishop. In February that year he was appointed auxiliary bishop of the Juneau Diocese, and the next month he was consecrated by his older brother, then Bishop Mark Hurley of Santa Rosa, Calif. It was the first time in the United States that one brother ordained another a bishop. The following year the younger Hurley was installed as Ordinary – or regular bishop – of the Southeast Alaska diocese.
Taking the motto “Populo Dei” or “for the people of God” and guided by the principle
“to serve the needs of the people,” Bishop Hurley poured his energy into social concerns – which would remain a hallmark of the rest of his life.
In Juneau, he co-founded Catholic Community Services, the Catholic social service agency of the diocese, and the Alaska Housing Development Corporation, to help the homeless secure affordable, safe housing. He initiated the Alaskan version of Meals and Wheels – “Trays on Sleighs” – to provide food to senior citizens in six villages in Southeastern Alaska. And in 1977, Bishop Hurley established St. Ann’s Nursing Home.
He sought also to unify and strengthen the widely scattered Catholics of Southeast Alaska. In order to improve communication within the diocese, he founded a diocesan newspaper — The Inside Passage.
And to communicate in person, Bishop Hurley earned a pilot’s license, flying himself to the remote, little-visited communities across the diocese.
While geographically vast, the Juneau Diocese was small in numbers – there were only 4,000 Catholics there at the time – but Bishop Hurley embraced his flock with singular devotion. During a time when small dioceses were being merged with neighboring ones, Bishop Hurley requested Juneau be allowed to continue as its own – and the Vatican agreed.
Meanwhile, the Catholic presence in Southeast Alaska grew; in Bishop Hurley’s six years there and under his direction, five Catholic churches were built.
NORTH TO ANCHORAGE
In the mid-1970s, Bishop Hurley’s focus turned north. On May 4, 1976, Pope John Paul II elevated Bishop Hurley to Archbishop of Anchorage – making him the second archbishop of the Anchorage Archdiocese, after Archbishop Joseph T. Ryan.
For another three years, Archbishop Hurley continued to serve as the Apostolic Administrator of the Juneau Diocese – until Bishop Michael Hughes Kenny was appointed to replace him there.
Archbishop Hurley took on his new assignment in the large Southcentral archdiocese with characteristic vigor and pastoral concern. Social ministries and healthy family life were “central to society and to the church,” he said.
Through Catholic Social Services, Archbishop Hurley was instrumental in opening Brother Francis Shelter and Clare House, both emergency shelters for the homeless, as well as McAuley Manor, a residence for teen girls in need, and a daycare center for those with special needs. In addition, he helped establish Covenant House, a youth shelter.
In fact charity began at home for Archbishop Hurley. For instance, over the years the Joy Community – a group founded in 1978 by Presentation Sister Mary Clare Ciulla to help those with developmental disabilities and prepare them for the sacraments – gathered each month at various locations, including the archbishop’s house. “The group is very special to him,” parent Natalie Carey once told the Catholic Anchor.
In order to communicate with and unify all his flock, the archbishop founded the Catholic Anchor, the newspaper of the Anchorage Archdiocese.
In addition, Archbishop Hurley continued to fly, ministering in person to his far-flung flock. By his retirement at age 74, he had logged thousands of miles in the cockpit. Ministering to people in Alaska would have been difficult, he said, without “one very important tool – the airplane.” Along the way, the archbishop-pilot became a member of the Alaskan Air Command Civilian Advisory Board and a member of the Anchorage Civil Air Patrol.
MISSION TO RUSSIA
Across the archdiocese, Archbishop Hurley oversaw the construction of seven Catholic Churches – and he founded a mission church in Russia. In December 1990, he traveled with Father Michael Shields to Magadan – a city in Eastern Russia and the former site of a Soviet Gulag. In a theater, they offered Christmas Mass – the first public Mass in the city’s history. Three hundred people attended.
In the following three weeks, signatures were gathered to register a new church, and on January 4, 1991, the Church of the Nativity of Jesus was founded. Across the years, Archbishop Hurley traveled there nine times, and on January 14, 2001, celebrated the parish’s 10th anniversary Mass. Father Shields continues to serve as pastor of the mission.
NEW PRIESTS AND SISTERS
In the archdiocese’s own remote parishes, Archbishop Hurley invited religious congregations abroad to help. He drew in Holy Cross Father Leroy Clementich, the Daughters of Charity, Franciscan Sister Marie Ann Brent, Mercy Sister Joyce Ross, Medical Mission Sister Joan Barina, and others who staffed missions across Southcentral Alaska.
In the mid-1980s Archbishop Hurley invited the contemplative Sisters of Perpetual Adoration to establish a monastery in Anchorage – Alaska’s only contemplative Catholic cloister. He had been acquainted with the order since childhood. From his elementary school in San Francisco, he and his schoolmates could see the nuns in their backyard playing volleyball.
Archbishop Hurley welcomed the order’s first group to Alaska in the summer of 1985.
“I would not let them come here until May,” he told the Anchor with a chuckle, “so they would know there’s a sun in the sky and that it’s not always freezing and that we don’t live in igloos.” In January 2013, almost three decades later, Archbishop Hurley welcomed a second contingent of the cloistered sisters.
THE POPE COMES TO ALASKA
Archbishop Hurley also welcomed the pope to Alaska. With only weeks to prepare, he organized a papal visit in February 1981, and then accompanied Pope John Paul II throughout his historic stay. About 65,000 people attended the pope’s outdoor Mass on the Delaney Park Strip which remains the largest ever gathering of people in the state.
BISHOP FOR ALL ALASKANS
The influential Archbishop Hurley was well loved by Alaskans of various denominations and cultures. In 1997, he was named Alaskan of the Year – the first religious leader selected for the honor; and several times, Archbishop Hurley was named among the Top 25 Alaskans. In 2000, he celebrated Mass and the sacrament of confirmation at Emmonak. At the potluck dinner afterwards, Archbishop Hurley joined local Native Alaskans in a traditional dance. “They invited me into the dance and clapped at my effort to get synchronized with the leaders,” he said. “The elders welcomed me as an elder.”
On January 8, 2001, Archbishop Hurley offered his resignation to Pope John Paul II, who accepted it. In March, he passed the crosier to Archbishop Schwietz.
Archbishop Hurley slowed little in retirement. He spent countless hours visiting the elderly and sick and celebrating funeral Masses for the dead, including many old friends who had helped shape Alaska alongside him.
Information about memorial arrangements and the funeral Mass are forthcoming.