Saturday, June 27, 2009

Blessed Joseph Frederick Ignatius Hunt (1920-1993)

Sirach, author of the apocryphal book of Scripture known as Ecclesiasticus, sings the praises of "famous men" (and presumably women!) in his 44th chapter. "Some of them have left behind a name, so that others declare their praise..." Words never rang more true, perhaps, than in these days following the death of the pop singer, composer, and dancer Michael Jackson. The level of requests for copies and downloads of his music, even minutes after his death was announced, is utterly phenomenal. No question that, whatever your views about the enigma that he was personally, Michael will be remembered for his artistry for decades to come.

On the other hand, Sirach also sings the praises of others, not among the "famous men" (and women) mentioned earlier: "But of others there is no [or, at least, little] memory; they have perished as though they had never existed; they have become as though they had never been born..." I hate to say it, but I have a feeling that most of us will end up in that company sooner or later. It's not that folks like this haven't done significant, even great things in their lives. For whatever reason, their contributions to humanity simply haven't come to public notice. It really doesn't matter. I suspect Joseph Frederick Ignatius Hunt would tend to agree.

The early Church venerated and honored, in addition to the "saints", a group of people known as "Confessors": people who'd undergone persecution and/or torture, but hadn't actually been killed. The title "Confessor" was also given after death to great Christian teachers who had lived noticeably holy lives. In the 20th century the Anglican Churches began to recognize well-known holy and worthy Christians by providing a liturgical collect and readings for their commemorations, and by allowing the option of further regional commemoration of local homegrown heroes of the faith. Joseph Frederick Ignatius Hunt is a classic example.

Joseph was born on June 27, 1920 in Spokane, Washington, the fourth child and first son of Joseph Frederick Hunt and Olga Mathilda Petersen. His father owned a title insurance company, and it was Joseph's intent to become a lawyer and to be part of the family business. During the three years he studied at Gonzaga University in Spokane, he
discerned a call to the religious life, left college, and completed his Bachelor's degree at Mount Angel Seminary, a Benedictine School. He entered the Benedictine Novitiate in 1942 , taking "Ignatius" as his religious name,and began four years of theological study. In 1946 he was ordained a Roman Catholic priest and in 1948 professed his formal vows as a Benedictine monk.

Recognizing his superior intellectual gifts, the Order sent Joseph for post-graduate work to the University of Ottawa, where he earned a doctorate in Sacred Theology and was given a place on the faculties of both Westminster Abbey and the diocesan seminary in Vancouver, British Columbia. He spent nine years there as professor of ethics, languages, and
Scripture, taking time briefly in 1955 to make a study trip to the Near East with the Pontifical Biblical Institute. In
1958 he was named Professor of Old Testament at Conception Abbey Seminary, Conception, MO. [
I'm familiar with Conception Abbey and the Seminary from my visit there in early February, 1968, to confer with then-Dean, Fr. James Jones, OSB, regarding the procedure for laicization from the Catholic priesthood. Fr. James was practically the only recognized authority on the subject at that time, at least in that area if not in the country. I remember him with great admiration and gratitude for his wisdom and kindness.] In 1961 Joseph undertook advanced studies in the Old Testament and received a Bachelor in Sacred Scriptures degree and a licentiate in Sacred Scriptures from the Pontifical Biblical institute in Rome and the École Biblique in Jerusalem: no mean accomplishment! During these years he taught summer courses at St. John's University, Collegeville, MN, and did further study at the University
of Chicago and in both Rome and Nijmegen, Holland, under a Union Theological Seminary program. In 1963 he
returned for three years to his professorship at Conception Abbey and also taught at summer courses at St. Louis
University and the University of San Francisco.

The 1960's was a turbulent time in the Roman Catholic Church. Pope John XXIII opened the 2nd Vatican Council on October 11, 1962. This historic assembly of the world's Catholic bishops, the 21st Ecumenical Council, spanned a period of three years, addressing every aspect of the Church's life, and was carried out in four phases: October-December, 1962; September-December, 1963; September-November, 1964; and September-December, 1965, when Pope Paul VI closed the Council on December 8. The reverberations of the bishops' teaching throughout the Church, and, indeed, throughout the religious world, was monumental. Having lived through and been ordained during that period in a theological seminary, I experienced first-hand the on-the-ground ramifications of the Council. Contrary to what I had envisioned for my future in early life, I found myself among the first wave of those who made the choice to leave the Catholic priesthood.

In 1969, the year I was officially laicized by Paul VI, Joseph Hunt made a similar difficult decision to leave the Benedictine Order and the Roman Catholic Church. And as I was led to do later in Northern California, he also became an Episcopalian, in the Diocese of Western Missouri. The year before, he had been asked to write an article, "Excursus: Israel and her Neighbors" for Fr. Raymond Brown's prestigious Jerome Biblical Commentary. During the 1969-70 school year he served as Professor of Languages at Olympic College, Bremerton, WA. He was received as a deacon in the Episcopal Church in January, 1970, and also married Carolyn Jeanne Frey that year. In April he was received as a priest, and in the fall of 1970 was named Professor of Old Testament at Nashotah House Seminary in Wisconsin. Joseph Hunt wrote literally hundreds of reviews for various journals, and made contributions to any number of encyclopedias and collaboration volumes. He wrote two books of his own: Understanding the Bible and The World of the Patriarchs. He was also editor of Old Testament Abstracts from 1978 to 1989.

In 1988, Father Joe became the appointed Confessor for the Order of Julian of Norwich, then based at the DeKoven Center in Racine, WI, and remained in that capacity until 1992. His own monastic experience and the evident holiness of his life endeared him to the entire community.

Fr. John Julian, founder of the Order of Julian, relates the sad last days of Joseph Hunt: "On his 70th birthday in 1990, Nashotah House seminary and the scholarly community honored him by the publication of a festschrift volume: The Psalms and Other Studies on the Old Testament, edited by Jack C. Knight and Lawrence A. Sinclair. Father Joe had planned to live the rest of his life at his beloved Nashotah House seminary, where he had been given the use of a house on the seminary grounds after his retirement. However, in 1991, a brash, new, and reactionary faculty member attacked Father Joe's orthodoxy in a classroom lecture, and the gentle old man – now 71 years old and almost blind – refused on principle to confront or combat his colleague publicly. He chose rather to resign his Professorship and to leave the seminary which had been his cherished home for twenty-one years and where he had hoped and intended to die. As he prepared to leave, he said to this writer, 'For twenty years the faculty at the seminary has been like a family. We didn't always agree on everything, but the last thing in the world we would have done is to attack one another. Now that has all changed, and I can no longer be part of what is happening.'"

Joseph F. I. Hunt served as priest-in-charge of the small congregation of Trinity Church, Mineral Point, Wisconsin and remained there until his death on March 13, 1993 -- "just before the colleague who had attacked him was discharged from the seminary faculty", as Fr. John Julian notes.

A "famous man" like Michael Jackson? Probably not. But Joseph Frederick Ignatius Hunt is obviously worthy of Sirach's highest praises, and ours.

(Source: Fr. John Julian, Stars In A Dark World)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Funny I should find this blog post today. I was ordained to the priesthood in the Episcopal church in August, 2005 in New Orleans. Due to Hurricane Katrina my wife and I ended up at Trinity, Mineral Point where I was a semi-permanent supply priest. Fr. Hunt's widow, Carolyn lived across the street. One day she gave me his burse and pyx. I use it every time I bring communion to parishioners. I like to think a small part of his ministry continues through mine.

Michael Bertrand- currently vicar of St. Peter and St. Paul Episcopal Church, Mission TX