A. Father Witherup, members of the General Council, Father Kemper and your fellow Provincials, Chorbishop Beggiani, Fr. Hurst, Fr. Leavitt, dear brother priests and deacons, religious women and men, alumni, David Kinkopf, Trustees and benefactors, members of the faculty and staff, and most of all, dear seminarians and students:
B. We’ve gathered this night to bid farewell to Father Thomas Hurst, who, for the past nine years, has served so ably as President-Rector of St. Mary’s Seminary and University. Homilies such as this, of course, can easily turn into canonizations and while we all believe Father Hurst to be a holy priest canonizations are well above my pay grade. Instead, I’ll take my cues from the homily of my predecessor, Cardinal Edwin O’Brien, on the occasion of Father Hurst’s installation as Rector, November 30th, 2007.
C. On that occasion, the homilist referred to you, Father Hurst, as “a spiritual, pastoral, and intellectual leader” qualified in every sense to serve as the Rector of this, the nation’s oldest seminary. Time and experience have proven the truth and wisdom of my predecessor’s words, so please allow me to address briefly these three aspects of your leadership: spiritual, pastoral, and intellectual. And if I refer to you, Father Hurst, in the third person throughout this homily please accept my apologies in advance; let me assure you, this is not a eulogy!
II. Spiritual Leadership
A. We cannot think about Father Hurst’s spiritual leadership without, at the same time, reflecting on the spirituality of Father Jean-Jacques Olier, for Father Hurst is a devoted spiritual son of the founder of the Society of San Sulpice. Although Father Olier is not yet a canonized saint we can take Frederick William Faber at his word when he said, “Of all the un-canonized servants of God whose lives I have read, he most resembles a canonized saint…”
B. Many in this chapel know better than I that Father Olier was a leader in what is called the French School of Spirituality – a deeply biblical and realistic approach to the spiritual life, based on the liturgy, mental prayer, and the development of Christ-like virtues. Father Olier and the entire French school of spirituality took their cue from St. Paul who taught that God predestined us to be conformed to the image of his Son (Rom 8:29). According to Father Olier we are conformed to the image of Christ by participating in the mysteries of the life of Christ through the sacraments which, if received worthily, lead to an inner conformity to the Savior.
C. Steeped in the Scriptures, the living Word of God and Patristics, a practitioner of lectio divina and mental prayer, Father Hurst, strives to live the mystery of Christ he proclaims. As priest, spiritual director, professor, and rector he has helped many seminarians to be conformed to the mysteries that they would celebrate with and for the People of God. He has imparted to them a sturdy spirituality and sturdy habits of prayer essential for busy parish priests facing multiple and incessant demands. At the same time, Father Hurst has anchored the Ecumenical Institute in the universal call to holiness imparted through the Sacrament of Baptism, making growth in spirituality a hallmark of this institution – how grateful we are!
III. Pastoral Leadership
A. Father Olier’s path to pastoral leadership was not the easiest. Even as he came from a prominent family and was intellectually gifted, so also he underwent challenging periods of spiritual purification and integration. Yet, mentored by St. Vincent de Paul and overshadowed by the Holy Spirit, Father Olier came to place himself entirely at the service of the Church’s mission by engaging in parish work and, of course, seminary formation.
B. Everywhere Father Hurst has been stationed, he has generously assisted in what he calls “weekend pastoral duties”; his generous pastoral assistance is fondly remembered and greatly appreciated, most especially the thoughtful preaching of God’s word the reverent celebration of the liturgy, and his friendly pastoral manner.
C. In his pastoral generosity and in his role as rector and spiritual director, Father Hurst has helped to form many seminarians to be men of pastoral charity, dedicated to the Church’s mission of evangelization. He has shown them the link between progress in prayer, virtue, & an apostolic spirit. In a time of changing pastoral needs, he has offered to those in formation the guidance of steady a pastoral hand, imbued with prayer and scholarship always tempered by prudence & plain old common sense–the rarest of commodities! He has helped students to grow in their appreciation of other Christian traditions and to appreciate the diversity of pastoral situations they are likely to encounter in ministry. Father Hurst has helped bishops and priests to develop their pastoral skills through the Center for Continuing Formation and by presentations to diocesan priests, such as his talk on preaching the lectionary at a priest convocation in the Diocese of Bridgeport in 2002; I remember it well!
IV. Intellectual Leadership
A. We might recall that Father Olier lived in a time of intellectual ferment when modernity, even as we still know it, was emerging, along with the gradual development of the modern state. It was also a time when the decrees of the Council of Trent on seminary formation were just beginning to be worked out in their practicalities. Amid this heady mix of ferment and change, Father Olier helped to develop the intellectual underpinnings of a bold spirituality and he was a pioneer in developing a program of priestly formation which continues to command our attention.
B. A young Father Hurst came of age amid the intellectual and pastoral ferment that marked the latter part of the twentieth century, including remarkable growth in biblical and patristic scholarship, crucial for the vision of the II Vatican Council. Many of his contemporaries evinced a certain enthusiasm for theological trends but not many of them – actually none of them – developed expertise in Syriac! His facility with Semitic languages paved the way for original scholarship and contributed to the understanding of Scripture and Patristics. Yet his intellectual leadership is not confined to a narrow specialty but rather to the range of theology and culture with which church leaders need to be conversant.
C. At the same time, both as Rector of Theological College and Saint Mary’s, he has contributed to the understanding of priestly formation, especially the development of the U.S. Bishops’ Program of Priestly Formation which continues to serve well the Church in the United States.
A. So, tonight, Father Hurst, we your co-workers, students, and friends have gathered to express our very deep appreciation for your ministry among us, to thank you for your splendid service to St. Mary’s Seminary and University, and to ask for you God’s choicest blessings as you take a well-earned rest and continue to share with the Church the many gifts God has given you. We thank you above all for your practice of pastoral charity which has unified the many different aspects of this seminary and university and has helped seminarians, priests, and laity alike to achieve in their lives that balance and harmony so essential for true holiness (cf. PDV, 23).
B. May Jesus, living in Mary, come and live in you and all of us to the glory of God and for the salvation of souls, ad multos annos!