Retired Archbishop Denis Eugene Hurley of Durban, South Africa, an
outspoken opponent of apartheid, died Feb. 13, 2004 at age 88.
Hurley "will be remembered for his outstanding contribution to the struggle against apartheid, for his concern for the poor and his commitment to a more just and peaceful society the Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference said in a statement.
Bishop Kevin Dowling of Rustenburg, vice chairman of the bishops' justice and peace department, recalled Hurley as a "wonderful leader and prophet."
Hurley was born Nov. 8, 1915, in Cape Town to Irish parents. The son of a lighthouse keeper, he was raised at various lighthouses on South Africa's coast.
After finishing school in Pietermaritzburg near Durban, he went to Ireland to study for the priesthood with the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. He completed degrees in philosophy at Rome's Angelicum University and in theology at Gregorian University in Rome, where he was ordained in 1939.
He returned to South Africa a year later and was assigned to Durban's Emmanuel Cathedral, in 1944, he was elected to head the new St. Joseph's Scholasticate in Pietermaritzburg, where Oblates were trained.
In 1947, he was named bishop of Durban, becoming at 31 the youngest bishop. He was made an archbishop in 1951, becoming the youngest archbishop at the time.
At the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), Hurley was among 25 members of the agenda-setting Central Preparatory Commission.
He first served as chairman of the Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference from 1952 to 1961The conference issued in 1957 its first statement against apartheid, describing the system of enforced racial segregation as "inherently evil."
Auxiliary Bishop Jabulani Nxumalo of Durban recalled that in 1951 Hurley "was the first bishop ... who openly expressed himself against apartheid and spoke in support of the rights of the blacks."
Hurley was instrumental in setting up the bishops' justice and peace department; he served as its chairman until 1997. "Today we stand proudly on the shoulders of this giant and say: 'Archbishop Hurley has died--long live the spirit of Archbishop Hurley,'" the department said in a statement released from its Pretoria office.
Beginning in the early 1950s, he urged the racial integration of church schools despite apartheid laws.
He led the bishops' conference from 1981 to 1987 during the most repressive period of apartheid and continued his outspoken criticism of human rights abuses. Hurley's high-profile opposition to apartheid led to physical threats in the mid-1980s, Paddy Kearney, head of the Durban ecumenical organization Diakonia, told South Africa's Sunday Times Feb. 15.
Investigations by South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission found that Hurley was "one of the state's most wanted political opponents and a target for dirty tactics because banning was not an option for such a high-level cleric," Kearney said.
Hurley retired as archbishop in 1992. He was a beard member of the International Committee on English
in the Liturgy for nearly 40 years, beginning in 1963, and served as the committee's chairman from 1975 to 1991.
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