Fr Michael Hurley SJ, founder of the Irish School of Ecumenics, passed away in April. Following on from his funeral in Dublin, last week the Irish School of Ecumenics organised a special Service of Remembrance and Thanksgiving in Belfast.
For me, the witness of Hurley’s life has to be very real and personal, because without him I would simply not be where I am today doing what I am doing. I believe in the work of our school and I am continually inspired by the students who come from all over the world – to teach us, as well as to learn.
It’s been a busy five months since then, and the past weeks have been full of preparing for the latest group of students for our Master’s in Conflict Resolution and Reconciliation. Coming in the midst of this hectic time, the service and the time of refreshment afterwards provided at least a small window of opportunity to reflect again on Hurley, his work, and his legacy.
The service was held at Fortwilliam and Macrory Presbyterian Church in Belfast and presided over by its minister, the Rev Dr Lesley Carroll, who earned her doctorate through the Irish School of Ecumenics.
The sermon was delivered by the Very Rev John Dunlop, a former Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland and a sponsor of the now disbanded Columbanus Community. A full list of the participants in the service is on the Irish School of Ecumenics’ website.
The Columbanus Community of Reconciliation was a residential ecumenical community located at 683 Antrim Road in Belfast. That building is now home to the Belfast campus of the Irish School of Ecumenics, where I work. Hurley was also a founder of the Columbanus Community.
As the stories shared at last week’s service confirmed, Hurley was an energetic and tenacious character – one who was not afraid to speak his mind when he believed in what he was doing.
Dr Salters Sterling, Chair of the Irish School of Ecumenics Trust Steering Committee, recounted an occasion where Hurley was banned (if I remember correctly, by the then Archbishop of Dublin, John Charles McQuaid) from speaking at Trinity College. Hurley organised an alternative event for the same time as the Trinity event. He drew an even larger crowd than would have been expected at Trinity.
Hurley’s ecumenical vision was originally strenuously opposed by significant players in the Irish Catholic Church. Now, along with Protestant church leaders, the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin is a patron of the Irish School of Ecumenics.
Hurley’s intensity was akin to that of Saint Columbanus of old. Scanning Saint Columbanus’ Wikipedia page, I thought that this description could also be applied to Hurley:
In the cause of God he was impetuous and even head-strong, for by nature he was eager, passionate, and dauntless. These qualities were both the source of his power and the cause of mistakes. But his virtues were very remarkable.
Indeed, Sterling said that like Columbanus, Hurley would be remembered as one of Ireland’s great saints, a true ecumenical father of the Church.
During the week I checked out of our library Hurley’s 1998 book, Christian Unity: An Ecumenical Second Spring? I’ve managed to dip into it a few times over the past few days, and since I didn’t know Hurley well this is giving me further insight into his life and thought.
In the coming days or weeks, I’ll be sharing from that book on this blog.
(Photo: Fr Tom Layden, the Irish Jesuit Provincial, Very Rev Dr John Dunlop of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, Dr Geraldine Smyth OP, Head of the Irish School of Ecumenics, after the Service of Remembrance and Thanksgiving for Fr Michael Hurley SJ, in Belfast)