Many tributes have been paid to Fr Michael Hurley SJ, who died on Friday 15 April at the age of 87. Hundreds attended his requiem mass in Gardiner St. on Tuesday 19 April. Considered by many to be ‘the father of Irish ecumenism’, he was co-founder of the Irish School of Ecumenics in 1970 and remained Director there for ten years. In 1981, whilst on retreat in India, he had the vision of an ecumenical community of Catholics and Protestants living together somewhere in Northern Ireland. On his return in 1983 he co-founded the Columbanus Community of Reconciliation on the Antrim Rd, Belfast. He lived and worked there also for ten years, always giving a sincere and warm welcome to visitors north and south. Read below for an appreciation by Donal Neary SJ, Parish Priest of Gardiner St.
MICHAEL HURLEY SJ
Michael had a huge capacity for friendship. He often remembered all sorts of details, great and small, about novices he had befriended. The renewed community life of the post-Vatican II years gave many Jesuits a new and more personal form of community life. This spoke to Michael, who was an active initiator of the first small community in Milltown Park, and this was the beginning of many sustained links with younger Jesuits, who, he said, kept him young.
He struggled with the loneliness of academic life, working hard not to let it limit his care and interest in his fellow Jesuits and many friends. Today we might call him an iconic figure – he was this in worldwide ecumenical circles, and a larger-than-life member of the Irish Jesuits. His sense of humour, as well as skilled diplomacy, got him through many potential crises. He invited us to many hilarious and kindly gatherings in Milltown Park, and even engaged us in humorous yet deeply spiritual plans for his funeral. A new book, a milestone birthday, a jubilee of priesthood or Jesuit life, to which people of many churches and ways of life would find their way — all of these could be occasions for Michael to gather his friends around him.
He allowed us share some of the frustrations of illness over the last years, whether in conversation over a good lunch or on the telephone. Jesuit students remember the famous occasion when a lecture he was due to give was cancelled as it was considered potentially offensive by certain Church leaders. We younger students looked on him favourably as one of the ‘rebels’ after Vatican II, always pushing the boat out a bit into deeper ecumenical and theological seas.
We might recall that Michael never gave up – on life which he faced always courageously, on his friends whom he thought so highly of even when we did not deserve it, on the church’s movement into ecumenism which he pushed on with patience and zest, and on God whom he heartily believed never gave up on him.
Donal Neary SJ