SEATTLE – Hundreds of people, including more than 100 priests and bishops, gathered at St. James Cathedral to honor and remember Archbishop Emeritus Alexander J. Brunett at his February 12 funeral Mass.
The difficulties of the archbishop’s early life — growing up in Depression-era Detroit, the second of 14 children — influenced his work as the leader of the Archdiocese of Seattle, said the homilist, Bishop George Thomas of the Diocese of Las Vegas, who served with Archbishop Brunett in Seattle.
“Quietly, and often without explanation, [he] directed energies and resources to particular areas, often without consultation or rationale; but in light of his personal history, a history of childhood poverty and economic struggle, we can now understand why certain programs and initiatives became the beneficiary of his pastoral care,” Bishop Thomas said.
Archbishop Brunett, who led the Archdiocese in Seattle from 1997 until his retirement in 2010, died January 31.
‘A devotee of Catholic education’
Before the funeral Mass began, some people paid their respects at Archbishop Brunett’s draped casket, which sat over the entrance to the crypt beneath the cathedral altar, where two archbishops have been laid to rest. (Archbishop Brunett was laid to rest in the episcopal mausoleum at Holyrood Cemetery in Shoreline with the archdiocese’s other bishops and archbishops.)
Mass began with a procession of priests, bishops, Archbishop Emeritus J. Peter Sartain, and Archbishop Paul D. Etienne, who presided at the Mass — flanked by a color guard of 35 students from 11 parish schools and high schools from around the archdiocese.
Joseph Rimorin, a student at neighboring O’Dea High School, read the first reading. The second reading was read in Spanish by Jackie Lloyd-Evans of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. Deacon Larry McDonald of St. Monica Parish proclaimed the Gospel; the prayers of the faithful were led by Dominican Sister Sharon Park, who worked with Archbishop Brunett when she was executive director of the Washington State Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of the state’s bishops.
In his homily, Bishop Thomas highlighted the programs and initiatives that were important to Archbishop Brunett. He was a strong supporter of Catholic Community Services of Western Washington, which the archbishop saw as “the very embodiment of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and Catholic social teaching come alive in our midst,” Bishop Thomas said.
He also “lived and died as a devotee of Catholic education,” creating the Fulcrum Foundation to help students attend Catholic schools in the archdiocese, Bishop Thomas said.
Another longtime passion of Archbishop Brunett’s was ecumenical dialogue, and he found “significant time to work in the international arena of ecumenism and ecumenical dialogue,” the bishop said. And Archbishop Brunett supported the work of the WSCC to promote “humane and benevolent” state legislation, Bishop Thomas added.
Grace in suffering
In 2013, during a round of golf, Archbishop Brunett suffered a debilitating stroke. But “somehow, inexplicably, except by grace, he bore the burden with humility and peace,” Bishop Thomas said.
The stroke did not seem to dampen Archbishop Brunett’s sense of humor. When Kirk Altenhofen, the archdiocese’s director of chancery operations, visited the archbishop in the hospital after the stroke, “He opened one eye and he said, ‘They still owe me six holes. I was on 12 when I had the stroke, they owe me the final six holes,’” Altenhofen recounted before Mass.
The archbishop’s example of bearing suffering with grace inspired others, including his old friend Spokane Bishop Emeritus William S. Skylstad.
“I just had a tremendous amount of admiration for the way he handled the severity of his stroke and his human limitation,” said Bishop Skylstad, who was homilist at the February 11 vigil service. “His spirit was strong and directed, although it was difficult for him.”
Altenhofen recalled Archbishop Brunett’s tenacity as well.
“He would never give up,” Altenhofen said. “He knew he’d had the stroke and that he needed rehabilitation, but at the same time he insisted he was going to get better and get back to work, and he never gave up that dream, right up until the end.”