Longtime friends and colleagues share reflections on the archbishop’s life and legacy
Catholics around the Archdiocese of Seattle remember Archbishop Emeritus Raymond G. Hunthausen for his humility, integrity, leadership and advocacy for peace and social justice.
“He formed the conscience of a generation of Catholics in Western Washington,” said Jessie Dye, who spent 20 years teaching conflict resolution in the archdiocese and now, as senior campaign strategist with Earth Ministry, is building on the late archbishop’s social justice legacy.
The archbishop, who served in Seattle from 1975 to 1991, was known for his collaborative leadership. “He always began meetings with a prayer, and then listened carefully to what everyone had to say,” said Father Michael McDermott, who served under Archbishop Hunthausen as head of various chancery departments.
“He’d make the decision, but people felt they had been heard and their values had been acknowledged,” added Father McDermott, now pastor of St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Tacoma.
Dominican Sister Sharon Park was part of a group of women who worked with Archbishop Hunthausen to produce his 1980 pastoral letter on women in the church, believed to be the first of its kind from an American bishop.
Sister Sharon said she was impressed with the process — the way the archbishop really listened to women’s concerns — and the document’s practical calls for inclusive language and more opportunities for women to use their gifts.
“That’s what Vatican II was about. It wasn’t to be a totally hierarchical church,” said Sister Sharon, who recently retired as longtime director of the Washington State Catholic Conference, the organization of the state’s bishops. “There was a role for laypeople, and they could have a voice.”
From left: Father Michael McDermott, Sister Sharon Park, Tom Karlin, Michael Reichert, and Dennis O'Leary. Courtesy photos
Tom Karlin and his late wife Ida knew Archbishop Hunthausen from listening sessions he conducted at parishes, as well as protests and vigils he joined against nuclear weapons, and trips made to Olympia to oppose abortion, because “he believed so strongly that all life is sacred,” Karlin said.
“The most memorable time was when my wife was dying in August of 1994, he stopped by to pray with us and bless her and our family,” said Karlin, a member of St. Leo the Great Parish in Tacoma. “He just drove up in his little green VW bug, so humble and compassionate, just like a friend would do.”
When Denny Hunthausen thinks of Archbishop Hunthausen, he remembers family picnics in Montana and the uncle who taught him how to ski, fish and golf.
“I think about how fun and joyful he really was,” he said. “There was no pretext of him as some important person. He was our Uncle Dutch.”
Whether picking up hitchhikers or giving his possessions to anyone who asked, the archbishop lived the Gospel value of being present to people in need, his nephew said. It’s work that Denny Hunthausen carries on as a vice president of Catholic Community Services of Western Washington.
Archbishop Hunthausen’s vision was largely responsible for making Catholic Community Services and Catholic Housing Services what they are today, said CCS/CHS president Michael Reichert.
The archbishop hired Reichert in 1979 to help unite “five disparate agencies spread across Western Washington” with a combined staff of about 150 and an annual budget of $2 million to $3 million. Today CCS/CHS is the second-largest social service provider in the state, with 3,600 employees and an operating budget of $200 million.
“He was a strong, determined man,” Reichert said of the archbishop, “and it’s only with that kind of strength and determination and faith and humility that you can actually achieve the things that he was able to achieve.”
Dye was working for Archbishop Hunthausen during the challenging time of the apostolic visitation, when the Vatican investigated the archbishop’s ministry, including some pastoral practices common in the archdiocese.
“He believed he was fulfilling the teachings of the church, and he never backed down,” Dye said. “But I never heard him say a negative word about the Vatican or the investigation. He’d say, ‘I want to hear what their concerns are,’” she recalled. “It was a remarkable experience for me to watch him be true to himself and to respect and honor the other side.”
“I never heard him say a negative word about anybody,” said Dennis O’Leary, executive director of the chancery, who began working for Archbishop Hunthausen in 1980. “He was such a prayerful guy — he just was centered.”
Archbishop Hunthausen with Father Michael G. Ryan. Photo: Courtesy Father Michael G. Ryan
Archbishop Hunthausen was a man of humility, honesty, courage and especially prayer, said Father Michael G. Ryan, pastor of St. James Cathedral, who served with the archbishop from 1975 to 1988.
Just three weeks before the archbishop’s death, Father Ryan visited him at his Montana nursing home. He celebrated Mass with the archbishop and two of his brothers, Father Jack and Tony, around the kitchen table in the archbishop’s room.
“I’ll always remember the intercessions,” Father Ryan said. “Individuals were prayed for by name: friends, family, priests from the Seattle Archdiocese, church leaders, casual acquaintances and best friends,” Father Ryan said. “He was very intentional about it. When he said he’d pray for you, he did.”
Father McDermott remembered a visit with Archbishop Hunthausen about five years ago at a Montana nursing facility. The archbishop enjoyed many visits from family and friends, Father McDermott said, but his health was failing and he couldn’t read or walk.
“He said, ‘Most of the time I just sit here and let God love me,’” Father McDermott recalled. “It was a very powerful statement — a lesson on facing suffering and death with peace and confidence in God’s love.”
Morningstar Stevenson and Kevin Birnbaum contributed to this report.
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