SEATTLE – Clergy, religious and laity are remembering Archbishop Emeritus Alexander J. Brunett as a pastor at heart, an outspoken leader with a vision who was willing to listen to others, and a man who enjoyed breaking bread with others.
“He was primarily a pastor in his approach to things,” said Michael Reichert, president of Catholic Community Services of Western Washington. “He was always very encouraging and upbeat.”
Archbishop Brunett died January 31 at age 86.
During his 13 years as leader of the Archdiocese of Seattle, Archbishop Brunett showed his care and concern for the poor by visiting farmworker camps and celebrating Mass for the workers, visiting CCS homeless shelters and attending the opening of new CCS housing facilities, according to Reichert.
“The archbishop continued to be interested in our work even after he retired” in 2010, Reichert said. During Reichert’s visits with the archbishop, “he wanted to know how things were going.”
Archbishop Brunett “was a listener,” said BVM Sister Joyce Cox, who served as the archbishop’s delegate for religious communities during his tenure. Their relationship had a healthy back-and-forth of questions, she said.
The archbishop’s willingness to dialogue extended to the local Muslim and Jewish communities, said Sister Joyce, who represented him with those of other faiths. Working closely with the people of the synagogues, temples and mosques “showed these communities that the archbishop was very interested in building relationships,” she said.
“I have the greatest appreciation for my time, my work and my ministry with Archbishop Brunett,” added Sister Joyce, who retired in 2016.
When Archbishop Brunett came to the archdiocese in 1997, Fran Lembo was there to greet him at Connolly House (the traditional archbishop’s residence). For the next 13 years, Lembo cooked for the archbishop, she said. Her other duties included things like making sure the archbishop got to the airport on time for flights, Lembo said.
Archbishop Brunett did a lot of entertaining, inviting priests, religious sisters and others to break bread at Connolly House. “He enjoyed having people around,” Lembo said.
Archbishop Brunett also had a good sense of humor, she said. “He was just a good man.”
To Father Paul Magnano, who served as vicar of clergy under Archbishop Brunett and spoke with him a few days before his death, the archbishop was “a down-to-earth, outspoken guy who knew what he wanted.”
For priests ministering under Archbishop Brunett, things could be tough, Father Magnano said. “He would tell priests what they should be doing or where they should be assigned, even if the priest didn’t agree,” said Father Magnano, now a senior priest of the archdiocese assigned to parishes in the Skagit Valley.
But Archbishop Brunett also supported his priests through mandatory ongoing formation opportunities and by frequenting the Palisades Retreat Center in Federal Way “for talks and dinners with priests, deacons, lay leaders and parishioners across the archdiocese,” Father Magnano said.
The annual Priest Days gathering at Ocean Shores was important to the archbishop, he said.
“The opportunity to get all of us together, including the socials honoring retiring priests, newly ordained priests, international priests, priests celebrating jubilees … he saw all of this [as] celebrating priesthood,” Father Magnano added.
As for the laity, “fundamentally, he cared for the church, particularly the poor in his support of Catholic charities, and [by] naming the Isaac Orr Center [at the Chancery campus] after an unknown donor who saved up money to give to the archdiocese,” Father Magnano said.
Father Magnano, the first pastor of Christ Our Hope Parish in downtown Seattle, saw a connection between the parish name and Archbishop Brunett’s pastoral plan, “A Future Full of Hope.”
The archbishop loved the new parish, Father Magnano said. After a stroke in 2013 severely limited his mobility, the archbishop would come to Christ Our Hope for the anointing of the sick, wheeling himself up to the front of the church for the sacrament.
“I highly respected him,” Father Magnano said. “He did indeed give us ‘a future full of hope.’”