Retired Anchorage Archbishop Hurley dies at 88

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ANCHORAGE, Alaska - Retired Archbishop Francis T. Hurley of Anchorage died Jan. 10 at his home in Anchorage. He was two days shy of his 89th birthday.

He served as archbishop for a quarter-century, from 1976 to 2001. For six years before that, Archbishop Hurley was a bishop in Juneau.

"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 L. Schwietz said of his predecessor.

In February 1970, Archbishop Hurley was appointed auxiliary bishop of Juneau. He was ordained by his brother, Bishop Mark Hurley of Santa Rosa, California - the first time ever in the United States that a bishop had ordained his brother to the episcopacy. The following year, then-Auxiliary Bishop Hurley became head of the diocese.

As relations between the United States and the former Soviet Union began to thaw, Archbishop Hurley, by this time in Anchorage, founded a mission church in Russia. In December 1990, he traveled with Father Michael Shields to Magadan, a city in eastern Russia and the site of a former Soviet gulag. In a theater, they celebrated a 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 Jan. 4, 1991, the Church of the Nativity of Jesus was founded. Across the years, Archbishop Hurley traveled there nine times, and on Jan. 14, 2001, he celebrated the parish's 10th anniversary Mass. Father Shields continues to serve as pastor of the mission.

In Juneau, Archbishop Hurley co-founded Catholic Community Services, the Catholic social service agency of the diocese, and the Alaska Housing Development Corp., to help the homeless secure affordable, safe housing. He initiated the Alaskan version of Meals on Wheels - "Trays on Sleighs" - to provide food to senior citizens in six villages in Southeastern Alaska. In 1977, he established St. Ann's Nursing Home.

While geographically vast, the Juneau Diocese had only 4,000 Catholics at the time. In an era when small dioceses were being merged with neighboring ones, then-Bishop Hurley requested Juneau be allowed to continue as its own, and the Vatican agreed.

To improve communication within the diocese, he founded a diocesan newspaper, The Inside Passage. And to communicate better in person, the bishop earned a pilot's license, flying himself to the remote, little-visited communities across the diocese.

For three years after his appointment as Anchorage archbishop, Archbishop Hurley served as administrator of the Juneau Diocese.

Through Catholic Social Services, Archbishop Hurley was instrumental in opening two emergency shelters for the homeless, a residence for teen girls in need, and a daycare center for those with special needs. In addition, he helped establish a Covenant House youth shelter.

The archbishop also founded the Catholic Anchor, the newspaper of the Anchorage Archdiocese.

Archbishop Hurley also welcomed the St. John Paul II to Alaska. With only weeks to prepare, he organized a papal visit in February 1981, then accompanied St. John Paul throughout his historic stay. About 65,000 people attended the pope's outdoor Mass, which remains to this day the largest-ever gathering of people in the state.

Born Jan. 12, 1927, in San Francisco, he was ordained a priest of that archdiocese in 1951. After parish and teaching assignments, he took post-graduate studies in sociology at The Catholic University of America, Washington, and the University of California-Berkeley.

From 1957 to 1970, he worked at the U.S. bishops' conference, helping the bishops craft their policy positions on education, and ultimately serving as associate general secretary by the time he was appointed to Juneau.

Patricia Coll Freeman is associate editor of the Catholic Anchor, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Anchorage.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016