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Reflections from Hurley's family


(Extracts from an address at the funeral of Archbishop Hurley, 28/2/04)

He was a big uncle, the tallest of them all. When we were smaller andbarely reached his knees, Uncle Denis was - like the Drakensberg - a bit awe-inspiring. We knew that he was important because everyone recognized the surname we shared with him. They told us what a great man he was. We called the big cooling towers at the old New Germany power station "Uncle Denis' chimneys". Not only were they big like him but it meant that when we were driving down from 'Maritzburg we knew that we were getting close to his house when we saw them. But in our homes, after we had rushed to tidy the house when we spotted him walking down the driveway, Uncle Denis was playful and wonderful. Like a magician he could make his nose crack, break his thumb into two parts and then force it back together. We would bend down and beg him to grab hold of our hands and "turn us inside out". He even pretended that having his shoes tied together under the dining room table was a wonderful joke that always took him by surprise.

We teased him when he arrived at our house still wearing his ceremonial purple socks. He always had a great sense of style that possibly started as young as three. His mother told us how he would walk around the house with the tea cosy on his head practising to be the bishop. And he knew how to enjoy himself with his family. My two older sisters taught him to jive one memorable night to a Beatles record. He loved listening to the Clancy Brothers with the family.

Many suppers were eaten together, always beginning with a couple of whiskeys, followed by a bottle of red wine. The three brothers would talk usually about rugby and cricket. They would tell jokes and sing. Some of us still have the words of Molly Malone printed on our brains. They and their sister would also read stories aloud. The ones that most impressed us kids were the racy tales of Damon Runyan about the bootlegging, gambling Irish in New York.

But Christmases remain the most vivid among the memories. We waited at the gate for him to arrive with the same eager anticipation that we longed for Father Christmas' visit. We knew that he would bring wonderful presents, beautifully wrapped in both brown and cellophane paper. We did suspect though that his secretary took care of the wrapping.

One year the brandy that had been sprinkled on the Christmas pudding wouldn't catch alight. Our parents vividly remember the looks of horror on people's faces as he poured half a bottle of expensive cognac (which was someone else's precious Christmas present); he spread it over the pudding and set it alight with a great whoosh. Denis always had a great feeling for the ceremonial and liturgical.

After Christmas, just like the rest of us, he could live out the fantasy of being a great sporting hero by taking part in the traditional backyard Christmas match. We have a photograph from Christmas 1953, showing him wearing a large straw hat, flourishing the Don Bradman cricket bat he won as a schoolboy, while his younger brothers sprawl on the lawn in poses of mock desperation. The bat is still in the family.

Just 14 months ago when we had a Christmas all together in Australia, on Christmas day he telephoned us just as the traditional Christmas match was about to start and he asked my sister to hit a six for him.

He loved us: of that we were never in doubt. He was interested in everyone and everything we were doing. He always made us feel important and he kept up to date as all his many great-nephews and nieces were born and grew up, right up to two weeks ago. They knew him first and foremost not as the Archbishop but as Uncle Denis, or just Denis. A few evenings ago we went into his rooms at Sabon House. I think he has kept every photograph of all the kids that we sent across over the years.

But as we grew up we became more challenging to Denis. The fourteen young cousins that we once were, one by one became adolescents and young adults and just like a flock of free-range chickens many of us decided to make our own pathways in life and some of the things we did were difficult for Denis and our parents. But they never judged, not for one moment and it was a great gift he and they gave us: the gift of unconditional love. It was as though he was a tightrope walker on a rope that was stretched between his fierce loyalty and love for the Church and his fierce loyalty and love for his family and most of us made the tightrope walk that Denis did very difficult for him at times. I will be ever grateful to him for celebrating our marriage, with our two sons as the ring-bearers, only thirteen years ago and not only doing it in our Australian home in the garden but doing it so beautifully as he welcomed family and friends to this wonderful cathedral with its celestial dome and its arboreal columns.

We will miss Denis enormously. It was a great shock when he died. We thought he would live forever and he will. As one of his great-nephews emailed on hearing the news: "I know his spirit of compassion will live on through the rest of his family and continue to inspire as it has done for me."

Chris, his brother, his sisters-in-law, Bobbie and Ursula and all of us join with you in celebrating the life of a wonderful man. We thank you for the love you gave him. We will always be grateful for the love he gave us.


Interview with Chris Hurley, brother of the Archbishop

Chris Hurley is the youngest of Archbishop's immediate family. For some years he was a Marist Brother, having completed his religious formation in Australia and having taught in Marist schools both there and in South Africa where he was Principal of St Joseph's College, Rondebosch. After leaving the Marist congregation he was one of the founders of Thomas More School at Kloof in KwaZulu-Natal, and was for a time its Headmaster. Chris and his wife Ursula and their children (apart from Mikaela, who has continued to live in South Africa) emigrated to Australia in 1978 to ensure that their sons would not have to face the dilemma of compulsory military service in the apartheid army. For many years, Chris taught at Marist College, Canberra, and now lives in retirement in that city.

Ursula Hurley, sister-in-law of the Archbishop

Ursula Hurley (Maris Ursula Allpass) is the wife of Chris Hurley, the younger brother of Denis Hurley. In this interview she recalls how much Denis enjoyed the lively dinner-time conversation in their home especially when there were guests, the crisis when Chris was forced to resign as Headmaster of Thomas More School, how independent thinking was a feature of all four Hurley siblings: Eileen, Denis, Jerry and Chris (and indeed of their spouses) - and how she discussed the moral dilemmas about birth control with her brother-in-law, Denis, at the time of "Humanae Vitae".