Fr Peter Hurley died suddenly on 14 January.
To Peter’s family we offer our thanks for sharing with us your
wonderful brother and uncle. May he rest in peace.
Read below the homily delivered by Fr Shaun Smith
when Fr Peter’s body was received into church
and Bill Hurley’s eulogy from the funeral.
We have just heard from St John’s gospel chapter 11 a very moving dialogue between Jesus and the two sisters, Martha and Mary, when their brother Lazarus died. Emotions are expressed that are familiar to us in bereavement – regret and complaint, sighing and weeping, along with urgent prayer and vivid faith, deepening our conviction that it’s not all over, there’s more to life than death, that we believe it because Christ is risen, and that this is somehow foreshadowed by his raising their brother from the dead.
Let’s hear again those words, “See how much he loved him” – “See how much Jesus loved him” – just what we now say about Peter Hurley: “See how much we loved him.”
His parents had eight children though Bernard died in infancy, and he grew up in this Denaby family within a community of faith that nourished his vocation to the priesthood, and that of his older brother Michael. Some of us here now first knew him at seminary, and we have valued him in our lives ever since.
Ordained in 1960, he served as assistant priest in Dewsbury, Bradford, and two parishes in Sheffield, St Thomas More’s and St Theresa’s.
In the 1970’s he left his mark in Woodlands, a small mining village parish outside Doncaster. I followed him there shortly after he was appointed to St Anthony’s Wrose, in Shipley. It is sometimes said of people like him that he would be a tough act to follow. Not true, he was a great act to follow, because his pastoral care for and devotion to his parishioners had developed a strong sense of faithful community and loyalty to the church that was good to step into. I still have his visiting book, a model of useful information that told me as a new parish priest what I needed to know and build on.
Peter was transferred back from Leeds diocese to Hallam in the mid 80’s to take up his appointment to St Gerard’s, Thrybergh and then 16 years later here to St Patrick’s for his final 12 years.
How much he has been loved in these two parishes for his pastoral care and stamina is legendary. At the diocesan celebrations for this or that we would know that Peter would be the last to arrive, with his alb rolled up in a plastic bag, not because he was unpunctual but because he was cramming so much into a busy life, if he thought there was just time to see one more person in hospital or at home.
On 14 January, he got up to say the 8am Mass at Kirk Edge convent, as he has been doing on Wednesdays for years. Mother Prioress rang to check if he was coming because the roads were dicey. “No, I’m fine,” he said and drove the five or six miles to the convent. He got there and stopped the engine and his heart must have stopped at the same time because he didn’t even attempt to get out of the car. Those who found him moments later said that it was as if he was asleep.
Gospel words come to mind, “Come, good and faithful servant, come and share the joy of the Lord”, “O Lord, you gave him to us to be our joy and consolation. You have taken him away from us; we give him back to You without a murmur though our hearts are wrung with sorrow (St Ephrem).
To Peter’s family we offer our thanks for sharing with us your wonderful brother and uncle.
We did love him. May he rest in peace.
Eulogy for Fr Peter Hurley, by his Brother, Bill Hurley, St Patrick’s, Sheffield, 30 January
Pete will be furious with me this morning. He always said, “When I die I don’t want someone lying up there about me lying down here.”
His life was so rich, full and varied that you couldn’t make it up.
When Pete died I thought that I should give this eulogy so that I could give you the full picture of the man and his life. I presumed, in my arrogance, that because I had spent a lot of time with him I knew him best. How stupid of me. What the past two weeks have taught me is how little I knew him. All the phone calls we have received, all the cards, letters, visits and conversations have shown me that I knew only a small fraction of his life. All I can hope to do today is to give a few glimpses of Pete’s life.
Many people attend funerals out of respect for the person who has died or out of a sense of duty. I will guarantee that every person here today is here because of a personal encounter and a personal relationship with Fr Peter. He touched so many people in such a deep, caring way. We have not only lost a brother, an uncle or a parish priest. We have lost a dear friend.
The first card we received after Pete’s death summarised Pete’s life so beautifully. It stated, “While Peter does his lap of honour and we shed tears, let’s say a big thank-you to God for a life lived so lovingly, humbly and iridescent with the gospel of Jesus. Alleluia!”
Out of the many hundreds of letters sent to Fr Peter from people he helped over the years, I came across this one just by chance. I think it reflects the feelings of so many.
“Dear Fr Hurley, thank you once more for visiting me and listening to all my problems. You have given me light and lifted my soul. I awoke this morning with a feeling of greatness, knowing now that I am not alone anymore, that there is someone who cares. I have been so long without anyone caring about me or loving me that my life was so empty and I felt like a piece of stone. I am so looking forward to going to your church. I had forgotten what it was like to be happy. Now I have great faith, knowing that you care and that you will be praying for me. I thank you with all my heart. God bless you, Father.”
The stories abound of Pete’s complete lack of thought for himself and his total concern for others:
- He was renowned for sending cards – birthdays, weddings, christenings, get well. He never missed a birthday in our large family.
- There was the famous story of when he was a priest in Bradford. One day he was on the phone when the door-bell rang. He quickly went to the door to discover a tramp looking for a pair of shoes. Pete explained that he was busy on the phone but that there were two pairs of shoes by the back door. He invited the tramp to take a pair. When he went to check later, he discovered that the tramp had taken a shoe from each pair. Pete went around for the next few weeks in odd shoes, one lace-up and one slip-on, much to his mother’s embarrassment.
- When he was in Thrybergh I picked him up one day to play squash. On the way I noticed a man walking along the pavement. I said to Pete, “Hey, it looks as if that man has got your squash bag.” Pete quietly replied, “He has. He came to the presbytery yesterday looking for food and clothing. I gave him my bag to carry them in.” I looked on the back seat of the car to discover that Pete had put his squash gear into an Asda bag.
- A few years ago our sister, Carmel, bought Pete and our brother, Mike, a new, black sweater each for Christmas. She gave Pete his parcel on Christmas Day but Mike wasn’t home until several days later. Mike opened his parcel and quickly realised that the sweater was much too small for him. Carmel realised that she had given Pete the wrong sweater so promised to ring him to make the exchange. Too late! Pete had already given the sweater away to the first person coming to the presbytery door looking for clothes.
- When my mother died a few years ago, she left her house to Pete. He arranged for it to be sold, split the money six ways among his siblings and his portion was sent to CAFOD.
- When my aunt died a couple of years later she left her house to Pete. Exactly the same thing happened but his share went to Shelter.
- As his Executor, I had the task of looking through his personal bank account. In December, alone, there were fourteen cheques for £25 each made out to a variety of charities.
- I also noticed several cheques made out for £60. I realised that the £60 cheque was half the Minister’s fee for a funeral that he sent back to the family of the deceased.
I could go on and on.
He has put me to shame. After Pete’s death I made a resolution to try to be like him. I was going to be nice to people – at home, in shops, in traffic. I wasn’t going to judge people or criticise them. I failed miserably. It was like looking at that sheer rock face we saw being climbed recently. Pete was at the top and I was trying to get my first finger holds and toe holds.
But along with all that charity, love, spirituality, absolute Christianity, he retained a wonderful, child-like innocence and naivety. He could not cope with the age of technology. Right up to his death he wouldn’t have a mobile phone; use a computer; own a credit card or a debit card; use a sat-nav.
You could build a space rocket in the time he put together a golf trolley.
There is a wonderful story from just a few months ago when he arrived for golf without his golf shoes. My son, Damian, who was playing on that occasion, said, “Don’t worry, Uncle Pete. I have just bought a new pair and my old ones are in my car and will surely fit you. There is a slight split in one shoe so recently I have been using a plastic bag.” Damian duly gave Pete the shoes and plastic bag and we went to get ourselves ready. As we were preparing to walk to the first tee we looked down to find that Pete had put the bag over the golf shoe! There wasn’t much serious golf that day.
Another lovely story showing his total innocence, is when he came over to us for a family meal recently. My son, Adrian, offered to pick Pete up and take him home afterwards so that Pete could relax and enjoy a meal and a glass of wine. As they were approaching Sheffield on the way back they were stopped by the police. The conversation went something like, “Have you been drinking?” Adrian answered that he hadn’t. The policeman said, “I can smell alcohol.” Adrian explained that his uncle had had a drink. The policeman said, “Well, I am still going to have to breathalyse you.” At this, Pete says, “OK” and starts to get out of the car. The policeman, a little bewildered, says, “Not you, the driver.”
I think that his golf putter typified Pete’s whole attitude to life. He was given this putter when he first started to play golf at Ushaw when he was about eighteen. I don’t know how old the putter was then but he continued to use it every time he played over the next sixty years, right until a month before his death. His whole philosophy was – if it is not broken, why replace it. He never wasted anything.
Pete loved his sport. From being very young we would play football, cricket and tennis together. From the time he was ordained almost 55 years ago, I arranged tennis, squash, golf and snooker for him every Monday. Since my retirement, 14 years ago, we played golf every Monday, hail, rain or shine. I think the happiest and most relaxed I have seen him was when for ten years, from 2002-2010, we took him to Devon for a holiday. We had the use of the third floor of a beautiful flat in Woolacombe, overlooking three miles of curved beach. The moment we arrived there he would walk over to the big picture window in the lounge, gaze in awe at the scene and say, “Praise be to God.” We would then have a wonderful week or ten days of relaxation with Mass every morning and golf every afternoon.
Pete was a great fan of Fr Ronald Rolheiser, who writes an article in the Catholic Herald every week. In one of Rolheiser’s books I read recently, I came across this:
“There are two potential tragedies; if we go through life and do not love fully; and if we go through life and do not tell those we love that we love them.”
Pete loved with abundance and every single person he encountered knew that he loved them.
I should like to say a big thanks to so many people. Our sincere thanks to:
- Bishop Ralph, who visited the Medico Legal Centre to pray over Fr Peter’s body on the afternoon of his death, in spite of his busy schedule.
- Fr Des Sexton, as our very supportive parish priest in Rotherham and in his new role as Vicar-General.
- Andrew Crowley, the Deacon, who has had to cope with a huge amount of planning and organising and has done so admirably.
- Maggie and Peter who discovered Fr Peter’s body in his car at Kirk Edge and never left him until the paramedics arrived.
- The nuns at Kirk Edge for their support at a very difficult time.
- Nora, who looked after the presbytery so diligently in all the 12 years that Fr Peter was there.
- The organist and choir of St Patrick’s Church for their wonderful music both last night and today.
- Our daughter, Clare, and her music group, who also provided excellent music this morning.
- The Head, staff and children of St Patrick’s School, who went to enormous lengths to ensure the success and smooth running of these two services.
- Jeremy Neal, the funeral director, who has been immensely supportive throughout the whole process.
- All our own extended family for all the help and support.
I will leave the last word to a six-year old girl in St Patrick’s School. When she heard of the death she said, “Fr Peter has got his own halo now.”
Goodbye Pete. Enjoy a well-earned, well-deserved eternal rest.