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Reflections from priests and bishops

Bishop Fritz Lobinger, the retired bishop of Aliwal North, first met Denis Hurley in the early 1970s at the Lumko Institute where the archbishop was attending a Zulu course and Lobinger was a new member of staff. They immediately found many interests in common. Later they worked together on the Commissions for Liturgy and Catechetics of which Hurley was chair. Finally they were deeply involved in drawing up the Pastoral Plan "Community Serving Humanity". In all these settings, as well as in the plenary sessions of the SACBC, Lobinger appreciated Hurley's careful listening to various opinions, his passionate commitment to the truth, and his consistent search for the best ways to involve the whole People of God in the Church's work. He was impressed that despite Hurley's obvious intellect and experience he "would not exploit his superiority".

Fr. Eric Boulle
Father Eric Boulle was Vicar General to Archbishop Hurley from 1962-1968, a very interesting time because of the Vatican Council of which he was kept fully briefed by the Archbishop. He had many dealings with the Archbishop also from 1968-1971 as Administrator to the Cathedral as well as from 1971-1977 as Provincial of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. These contacts helped him to see a warm and friendly aspect of the Archbishop’s personality contrary to the common impression that he was rather aloof. He was also impressed by the Archbishop’s humble acceptance of negative feedback.

Fr Heinz Steegmann OMI  In the early 1980s Marylyn Aitken of the Grail was the organising secretary of the SACBC Commission for Justice and Peace. Representing Namibia on that commission was Fr Heinz Steegmann OMI, parish priest of Katatura, the best-known of Windhoek's townships. At every meeting he would make a point of giving a thorough briefing on the human rights abuses taking place in that territory. This led to Marylyn's making a special visit to Namibia. She came back and shocked the bishops with her account of what she had seen under the guidance of Heinz. Archbishop Hurley proposed that the bishops send a high-level delegation to see for themselves and agreed to lead it himself, with Heinz as the organiser. The delegation was also horrified at what they learnt. On their return, they managed to convince the whole bishops' conference that they would have to speak out about the atrocities, especially those perpetrated by the Koevoet anti-insurgency unit. The archbishop led by example ... and the rest is history. He was charged for making "false statements". Three days before the trial the charges were withdrawn when the SA government realised it was they who would be on trial, not the archbishop. Fr Heinz was subsequently appointed director of the mission-funding organisation, Missio in Aachen, Germany - and now is superior at the Salvatorberg Guest House in that city.

Fr Peter-John Pearson is Director of the SACBC's Catholic Parliamentary Liaison Office. Fr Peter-John, a noted expert on issues of justice and peace, was the special guest speaker for the "Hurley Weekend" at Durban's Emmanuel Cathedral from 19 - 21 March 2010. He is Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Cape Town and a former Director of their J & P Commission.

Rev Norman Hudson is a former bishop of the Methodist Natal Coastal District and chairperson of the Diakonia Council of Churches. One of his warmest memories of Archbishop Hurley's ecumenical spirit is the gentle, kindly and humorous way in which he replied to an elderly nun who in an ecumenical meeting asked the archbishop: "But do these other churches realise that we are the one true Church?" Dr Hudson recalls standing next to the Archbishop in a poster protest and how calmly he accepted the harassment they received from some passers-by. He was also very moved by the archbishop's enthusiasm about the Methodist "class system": small groups which encourage each other in Christian discipleship. This showed that willingness to learn from others was a significant feature of Denis Hurley's make-up. Dr Hudson was particularly struck by how strongly the Archbishop encouraged the churches to work together in standing for justice - this would be a much more effective way of encouraging church unity than harping on dogmatic differences.

Rev Athol Jennings is a retired Methodist minister who now lives in Clarens in the Free State. A former Director of the Vuleka Trust, Headmaster of Waterford/Kamhlaba School in Swaziland and Head of the Methodist Christian Education and Youth Department, he had a number of associations with Archbishop Hurley over the years. He recalls inviting the archbishop in the early 1970s to share his idea of starting an organisation to be known as "Diakonia" with what was then the Natal Council of Churches. The archbishop's proposal was warmly accepted, and a few years later Diakonia (now the Diakonia Council of Churches) came into existence.

Bishop Michael Nuttall is the retired Bishop of Natal, formerly Dean of the Church of the Province and therefore "Number Two to Tutu", a role which he described in a book of that title. Bishop Nuttall describes a few special occasions on which he was given communion by Archbishop Hurley - and speculates about how the Archbishop walked a tight line between his own personal loyalty to the Catholic Church and some issues where he had a different point of view. Among aspects of the Archbishop's personality he notes a certain distance and shyness, also a disciplined lack of emotion, nevertheless a warmth and friendliness and a deep ecumenical commitment. He includes an interesting reflection on the pain of Anglican orders not being officially recognised by the Catholic Church, and recollects that at one time he wanted to ask the Archbishop whether he could attend a weekday Mass in the archbishop's chapel, just as a non-communicating participant - but didn't ever get around to asking if this would be possible.

Archbishop Philip Russell was Desmond Tutu's predecessor as Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town. Prior to that he was Anglican Bishop of Natal, and had many dealings with Archbishop Hurley especially at the time of the establishment of Diakonia in the early 1970s. Philip Russell recalls that Denis Hurley attended his consecration as Suffragan Bishop of Cape Town, his installation as Bishop of Natal and as Archbishop of Cape Town. They also both appeared as expert witnesses for the defence in the court martial of conscientious objector Charles Yeats. He sums up Denis Hurley in these words, "a very good, solid, gentle citizen, Christian, for whom I had the highest regard."