Archbishop Hurley made the church’s social outreach personal in Alaska

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Archbishop Emeritus Francis T. Hurley passed away in January. Here at Catholic Social Services, knowing he is in a better place, we are comforted yet saddened by our loss and the loss to this community. His personal charm, warmth, pragmatism and humor will be greatly missed.

Archbishop Hurley’s deep compassion for the poor and vulnerable had a profound impact on Catholic Social Services over the years. He left an enduring mark on Anchorage and in particular those served and touched by the social arm of the Catholic Church. Under his leadership, the archdiocese supported the expansion of Catholic Social Services to reach out in an even greater capacity to the poor and vulnerable in our community.

We grew to meet the unmet needs of our most vulnerable through Brother Francis Shelter, Clare House, Special Needs Services, McAuley Manor, Charlie Elder House and Refugee Assistance and Immigration Services. Archbishop Hurley had a gift for being able to see all people as worthy of dignity and respect, regardless of their challenges. These programs reflected the emphasis of the archdiocese under Archbishop Hurley to live the social teachings of our church.

Over his lifetime the community changed and other agencies and outreaches stepped in to provide similar services, but in many ways the archdiocese and Archbishop Hurley were the first champions in our community for those experiencing homelessness, single-parent families, families who experience disabilities, young adults and refugees.

He was personally vested in this service work too. Many times I have been told stories from guests at Brother Francis Shelter or other of our services, who met and spent time with Archbishop Hurley. They recount his kindness and humor. These stories reveal that Archbishop Hurley gave the gift of his time to others. He made time for people, whether they were living on the streets or in the Vatican in Rome. By spending time with others, he was very present and this was a great gift.

For a someone who is marginalized in our society to experience true presence with someone else, especially someone as well known and prominent as Archbishop Hurley, was truly special. The gift of time and presence will stay with all of us who knew him.

I remember going through confirmation at St. Patrick’s and having the opportunity to speak with him with my classmates. We were teenagers full of questions and concerns – very political and full of ourselves and our small view of the world. But he took us seriously, to his immense credit, and also injected humor and realism into our conversation. He was very present with us — rash, know-it-all teenagers that we were. He listened and made personal connections, something he seemed to do with everyone. Archbishop Hurley connected with all of us, and we are better for it.

He will be dearly missed by Alaska. We will miss him at Catholic Social Services for the many practical lessons he taught us, and his true commitment to all of God’s people. We will work to carry on the mantle of service he inspired, remaining dedicated to upholding the dignity of every person we serve.

The writer is executive director of Catholic Social Services in Alaska. For more information about CSS, call 276-5590 or visit cssalaska.org.


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