Standing-room-only crowd honors life of Archbishop Emeritus Raymond G. Hunthausen

  • Written by Greg Magnoni
  • Published in Local
Photo: Katie Niemer Photography Photo: Katie Niemer Photography

SEATTLE – 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.

It was a lighthearted tone 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.

Father Ryan preachingFather Michael G. Ryan preaches during the funeral Mass of Archbishop Emeritus Raymond G. Hunthausen. Photo: Katie Niemer Photography

Archbishop Hunthausen was 96 when he died at his home in Helena, Montana, on July 22.

“Archbishop Hunthausen was a humble and loving servant of the Lord, and a man of peace,” Archbishop Sartain said upon learning of his death. “Above all, he loved the Lord, and that stood out in every conversation I had with this loving and compassionate servant of God.”

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.”

casket crucifix
Kathy Shipman places a crucifix on Archbishop Hunthausen's casket. Photo: Katie Niemer Photography

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.’”

Father Ryan’s tribute to Archbishop Hunthausen received a response rarely experienced in Catholic churches — a standing ovation.

‘Immense gratitude for his life’

Those attending the funeral liturgy included more than 100 priests serving in the archdiocese, some 70 women religious, 25 deacons and all 17 of the archdiocese’s seminarians.

Father Jim Lee
Father Jim Lee, pastor of St. Michael Parish in Olympia, pays his respects at Archbishop Hunthausen's casket. Photo: Katie Niemer Photography

Denny Hunthausen, Archbishop Hunthausen’s nephew and agency director for Catholic Community Services of Western Washington’s Southwest Family Centers, was among the dozens of family members who traveled to Seattle for the funeral Mass. The family, he said, came out “in similar fashion” for his 1975 installation as archbishop, and “followed him throughout his time in the church.”

Despite Archbishop Hunthausen’s high-profile service within the church and his equally high-profile stances on controversial issues, “no one in the family ever knew him as anything other than Uncle Dutch,” Denny Hunthausen said.

“There’s immense gratitude for his life, and of course a sense of loss, because he was larger than life,” he said. “We wouldn’t be the family we are without the way he brought us together. For an extended family, we are extremely close.”

‘The cause of my life and my priesthood’

Raymond Hunthausen was born 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’s Seminary in Kenmore. He was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Helena by Bishop Joseph Gilmore on June 1, 1946, at St. Paul Church in Anaconda.

After his ordination, he taught at Carroll College and became athletic director at the college, where he coached football, basketball, baseball and track. He was named to the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics Hall of Fame and served as president of Carroll College from 1957 to 1962.

A portrait of Archbishop Hunthausen by local artist Mary Larson stands with the archbishop's crosier and miter. Photo: Katie Niemer Photography

At the age 40, in July 1962, three months before the start of the Second Vatican Council, he was appointed bishop of Helena by Pope John XXIII, and consecrated at St. Helena Cathedral on August 30, 1962.

He spent the next four years of his episcopate at the Second Vatican Council in Rome. He was appointed Archbishop of Seattle by Pope Paul VI on February 25, 1975, and was installed on May 22, 1975.

Archbishop Hunthausen’s episcopal leadership became the subject of a Vatican visitation in 1983. The visitation reviewed the archdiocese’s ministry to homosexuals, seminarian training and the use of laicized priests in the archdiocese, as well as the use of contraceptive sterilization in Catholic hospitals, general absolution and other practices related to the liturgy.

On June 18, 1991, Archbishop Hunthausen announced his retirement, effective on his 70th birthday. In a 1996 interview with The Catholic Northwest Progress, Archbishop Hunthausen said that being with the people was the greatest joy of his priestly ministry.

“They are — after God — the cause of my life and my priesthood,” he said. “Together we’ve grown to love the Lord, I hope, a little more deeply. And we have grown to love one another in the Lord.”

The last years of his life were spent alongside his brother, Father Jack Hunthausen, at a Helena nursing facility, where they celebrated Mass daily.

He is survived by his brothers Tony and Jack, both of Helena; his sisters, Sister Edna, of the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth, and Jean Stergar of Anaconda; and 34 nieces and nephews, 101 great-nieces and -nephews and 64 great-great-nieces and -nephews.

Make a memorial gift

Contributions in honor of Archbishop Hunthausen may be made to the Hunthausen Fund at St. James Cathedral in Seattle and the Archbishop Hunthausen Fund at Good Samaritan Ministries in Helena, Montana.