Seattle Archbishop Emeritus Raymond G. Hunthausen dies

  • Written by Northwest Catholic
  • Published in Local
Photo: M. Laughlin Photo: M. Laughlin

Archbishop Raymond G. Hunthausen, who led the Archdiocese of Seattle from 1975 to his retirement in 1991, died July 22, at his home in Helena, Montana, surrounded by members of his family.

He was 96. Upon learning of his death, Archbishop J. Peter Sartain paid tribute to him: “Archbishop Hunthausen was a humble and loving servant of the Lord, and a man of peace. As his successors, Archbishops Murphy, Brunett, and I were the beneficiaries of his pastoral leadership and his development of lay leadership, many programs of outreach to the poor, and other pastoral programs that have made this such a vibrant archdiocese. Above all, he loved the Lord, and that stood out in every conversation I had with this loving and compassionate servant of God. May he rest in peace.”

Archbishop Hunthausen was the last living American bishop to have participated in all four sessions of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). From 1962 to 1975, he served as bishop of Helena, Montana, and from 1975 to 1991, as archbishop of Seattle.

Raymond Gerhardt Hunthausen was born to Anthony and Edna Hunthausen in Anaconda, Montana, on August 21, 1921, the oldest of seven children. He graduated with a degree in chemistry from Carroll College in Helena in the spring of 1943, and studied for the priesthood at St. Edward Seminary in Kenmore. He was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Helena at St. Paul Church in Anaconda on June 1, 1946, by Bishop Joseph Gilmore.

Following his ordination, he began teaching at Carroll College and during the summers pursued graduate studies in chemistry at Notre Dame University, Fordham University, The Catholic University of America and St. Louis University. In addition to his teaching duties, Hunthausen became the athletic director for Carroll College, where he coached football, basketball, baseball, track and most other sports. His teams won several titles, and in 1966 he was named to the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics Hall of Fame, the only member of the American hierarchy ever so honored. He served as president of Carroll College from 1957 to 1962. Carroll College honored him by naming its new sports and student center after him in 2017.

In July 1962, he was appointed bishop of Helena by Pope John XXIII, and consecrated at St. Helena Cathedral on August 30, 1962. Significant parts of his first four years as bishop were spent at the Second Vatican Council in Rome, and the archbishop always said the council was his “on-the-job training” for being a bishop. During his years as bishop of Helena he was noted for vigorously implementing the teachings of the council and was especially passionate about ecumenism, liturgy and collaborative ministry. He began the youth camps at Legendary Lodge and founded a diocesan mission in Guatemala, one of the first American bishops to do so.

In February 1975, Pope Paul VI appointed him archbishop of Seattle, where he was installed on May 22 of that year. Known for his strong commitment to issues of peace and justice, Archbishop Hunthausen’s leadership emphasized quality pastoral care for the people of the archdiocese, with particular emphasis on training and equipping lay women and men for ministry. In 1980, he wrote what is believed to be the first pastoral letter by an American bishop identifying steps the church should take to value the gifts of women equally with those of men. His dedication to shared responsibility and to inclusiveness brought the archdiocese into a new era marked by bold strides in ecumenism and multiculturalism. Under his direction in 1988, the Archdiocese of Seattle became one of the first dioceses in the nation to implement a policy to address child sexual abuse by priests and church employees.

His passion for peace became known around the world when he protested the proliferation of nuclear weapons, including the housing of Trident missile submarines on Puget Sound. So convinced was he of the immorality of the buildup of nuclear arms, that he began to withhold half of his own income taxes in 1982. Not long after, in 1983, the Vatican undertook an apostolic visitation to look into the archbishop’s ministry, including some of his pastoral practices and public positions. The visitation, while difficult and divisive, served to highlight Archbishop Hunthausen’s unfailing trust in God, his prayerfulness, and his unswerving dedication to the church. When the visitation was concluded in 1987, he welcomed the appointment of Archbishop Thomas J. Murphy as his coadjutor.

Revered as an outspoken advocate for the poor and the marginalized, Archbishop Hunthausen was also a great advocate for women and their role in church and society, as well as for women religious. So deeply was he committed to the church’s ecumenical mission that many clergy of other denominations referred to him as their bishop. Always known for his “common touch,” Archbishop Hunthausen had little use for the titles or trappings of office, always preferring to walk among the people as one of them, a leader who was very much in touch with his people.

Despite his enormous responsibilities as a bishop of the church, the archbishop always maintained a warm and close relationship with his family. Among his siblings and his beloved nieces and nephews and his great-nieces and great-nephews, he was affectionately known as “Dutch,” and his happiest times were those he shared with them at family gatherings, where he could always be counted on to know the names of scores of family members down to the very youngest. A natural athlete and lover of the outdoors, the archbishop took great delight in skiing, golfing, hiking, fishing and relaxing with family and friends at his humble mountain cabin at Moose Lake.

Shortly after his retirement in 1991, he chose to spend more and more time with his family in Montana, but even so, he continued to help out in parishes and was much sought after as a retreat director and confessor. For the last several years of his life, he lived in a nursing facility in Helena alongside his brother Father Jack Hunthausen, where they celebrated Mass daily and welcomed a steady stream of visitors, both family and friends. Keenly interested in the church and its mission to the last, he took particular joy in the election in 2013 of Pope Francis, whose vision and priorities in so many ways echoed his own.

The archbishop was preceded in death by his father, Anthony G. Hunthausen, and his mother, Edna T. Hunthausen; his brother Art Hunthausen; and his sister Marie Walsh. He was also preceded in death by his sisters-in-law Donna Kane Hunthausen and Harriett Hunthausen; his brothers-in-law Pat Walsh and John Stergar; his nephews Pat Walsh, Ed Walsh, Jack Walsh and Ray G. Hunthausen; and his great-nephew Patrick Walsh Kelly. He is survived by his brothers Tony and Father Jack, both of Helena; and his sisters Sister Edna, of the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth, and Jean Stergar, of Anaconda; and by his 34 nieces and nephews, 101 great-nieces and -nephews and 64 great-great-nieces and -nephews.

Funeral arrangements for both Helena and Seattle are pending. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the Hunthausen Fund in Helena at Good Samaritan Ministries and the Hunthausen Fund at St. James Cathedral in Seattle.

UPDATE: The details of Archbishop Hunthausen’s funeral have been set.

Friday, July 27:
11 a.m. - Memorial Mass, St. Helena Cathedral, Helena, Montana. Bishop George Thomas of Las Vegas (formerly of Helena), presider and homilist.

Tuesday, July 31:
2 p.m to 5 p.m. - Viewing, St. James Cathedral, Seattle.
7:30 p.m. - Vigil Service, St. James Cathedral. Archbishop J. Peter Sartain of Seattle, presider; Bishop Emeritus William Skylstad of Spokane, homilist.

Wednesday, August 1:
11 a.m. - Funeral Mass, St. James Cathedral. Archbishop Sartain, presider; Father Michael G. Ryan, pastor of St. James Cathedral, homilist.

A public reception will follow the funeral Mass. Archbishop Hunthausen will be interred in a private ceremony in the St. James Cathedral Crypt later in the day.