A standing-room-only crowd says goodbye

Photo: Katie Niemer Photography Photo: Katie Niemer Photography

Lighthearted tone at Archbishop Hunthausen’s funeral was tribute to humble, humorous man

As he began his homily for the funeral Mass of Archbishop Emeritus Raymond G. Hunthausen on August 1, Father Michael G. Ryan noted that some people had told him not to expect a large crowd, since the archbishop retired nearly 30 years ago, in 1991.

“Oh ye of little faith,” Father Ryan, pastor of St. James Cathedral and a longtime friend and confidant to the archbishop, joked to the amusement of the standing-room-only gathering at the cathedral, estimated at more than 1,300. Those who came to pay tribute included more than 100 priests serving in the archdiocese, some 70 women religious, 25 deacons and all 17 of the archdiocese’s seminarians.

The lighthearted tone was echoed by Archbishop J. Peter Sartain, who welcomed Archbishop Hunthausen’s extended family — a contingent estimated at more than 100 — by saying to the crowd: “If you see somebody you don’t recognize, just assume they’re members of the Hunthausen family.”

The mood was a tribute to the man most often described as “humble” by those who knew him. “His humor, along with his humility, and a faith stronger than any I’ve ever witnessed, got him through some excruciatingly painful and difficult years,” Father Ryan said.

The last living American bishop to have participated in all four sessions of the Second Vatican Council, Archbishop Hunthausen was credited by the priests who served with him for bringing the council’s documents to life.

“He brought the best spirit of the Second Vatican Council into the church in Western Washington,” said Father William Heric, priest administrator of Christ Our Hope Parish in Seattle. “He made Vatican II come to life.”

His passing is “the end of an era,” Father Heric added.

Edith Aspiri, who with her husband Ray and other lay leaders worked with Archbishop Hunthausen to establish the Catholic Fund in 1986, spoke of her admiration for the deceased archbishop. “If ever I knew someone who was a saint, I think this man qualifies,” she said.

‘Embodiment of the beatitudes’

Throughout the service, Archbishop Hunthausen’s plain wooden casket was positioned over the cathedral’s crypt, where he was laid to his final rest in an afternoon ceremony open to the public. His casket bore the inscription “Blessed are the peacemakers, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Archbishop Hunthausen was “the embodiment of the beatitudes,” Father Ryan said in his homily, which wove together stories detailing the personable and sometimes controversial life of the Montana native who became the sixth bishop and second archbishop of Seattle.

He recalled listening sessions with the laity across Western Washington in 1976; the highly publicized Vatican visitation in the 1980s when “the eyes of the country were on Seattle”; and the call that the bishop of Helena (1962–1975) received in 1975 telling him the pope wanted him to serve as archbishop of Seattle.

According to Father Ryan, it was the second time then-Bishop Hunthausen was asked to become an archbishop. The first came in 1973, when Archbishop Jean Jadot, apostolic nuncio to the U.S., asked him to accept appointment as archbishop of Portland, Oregon.

Bishop Hunthausen asked if he could have some time “to think and to pray,” Father Ryan said. After prayerful consideration, he respectfully declined the appointment, considering it the best thing for the church.

Two years later, when he received another call from Archbishop Jadot, the bishop accepted the appointment as Seattle’s archbishop, despite his misgivings and humility. “This time,” Father Ryan said, “his prayers brought him to a different place. As he said to me: ‘It seemed that the Lord was trying to tell me something.’”

The crypt at St. James Cathedral

Archbishop Raymond G. Hunthausen is the second archbishop to be laid to rest in the episcopal crypt at St. James Cathedral, where Archbishop Thomas J. Murphy was interred in 1997.

The crypt beneath the floor is original to the cathedral, built in 1907 during the tenure of Bishop Edward J. O’Dea, according to Corinna Laughlin, the cathedral’s pastoral assistant for liturgy. The entrance to the crypt is covered by the original stone slab, which features a cross.

"The crypt was covered by carpet in 1950 and people forgot it was there,” Laughlin said. When the carpet was removed for the 1994 renovation of the cathedral, the crypt was rediscovered and restored, she said. It has eight burial chambers.

The only entrance to the crypt is an opening in the floor. Scaffolding, winches and cables are required to remove the crypt’s heavy lid, which is some 4–5 inches thick, Laughlin said. Then a ladder is needed to climb the 10–11 feet down into the antechamber, which is about 6–7 feet wide and 12–14 feet long, said Rich Peterson, director of the archdiocese’s Associated Catholic Cemeteries.

At the conclusion of Archbishop Hunthausen’s August 1 committal service, with ACC workers at the ready below, pallbearers and others lowered the archbishop’s casket with ropes, Peterson said. The ACC staffers put the wooden casket in a protective covering, placed it in its individual chamber and sealed it in place, he said.

An inscribed end panel will be installed on Archbishop Hunthausen’s crypt. In addition, an inscription honoring him and noting his burial place will be engraved in one of the eight marble panels surrounding the crypt’s lid.

The archdiocese’s other bishops are interred in the episcopal mausoleum — established by Archbishop Thomas A. Connolly — at Holyrood Cemetery in Shoreline. With the permission of Archbishop J. Peter Sartain, a memorial plaque honoring Archbishop Hunthausen will be installed at the mausoleum, joining a memorial plaque for Archbishop Murphy, “so the story of all our bishops will be told in one place,” Peterson said.

Northwest Catholic - September 2018

Greg Magnoni

Greg Magnoni was the founding editor and associate publisher of Northwest Catholic until 2018.