June 2, 2006

Sharing the faith: Excellence in Catechesis Award given posthumously to Bill Hunn

By Sean Gallagher

On the day that Bill Hunn died of leukemia last October, he called Father Thomas Clegg, pastor of Most Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in Jeffersonville, and asked him to come to his hospital room.

Hunn had collaborated with Father Clegg in ministry at the parish as director of faith formation.

“When he called me to the hospital on the day he died, [he] told me to tell them to be good, tell them to keep the faith and tell them to carry on,” Father Clegg said.

And that is what so many of the volunteer catechists at Sacred Heart Parish have done. All the faith formation programs that Hunn established at the New Albany Deanery parish continued without a hitch after his death.

As a result of Hunn’s empowerment of these catechists and his many years of ministry at Sacred Heart Parish, last month he was posthumously awarded the 2006 Excellence in Catechesis Award by the archdiocesan Office of Catholic Education (OCE).

One of the people carrying on Hunn’s ministry at the parish is his wife, Lois Hunn, who oversees Sunday morning elementary religious education classes as well as sacramental preparation for first Communion and first reconciliation.

“I just felt that everybody had that sense that we had to carry on, [that] we can’t not carry on,” she said. “And even when I asked the catechists about whether or not they wanted to come back next year, overwhelmingly they almost all said yes.”

The message of “carrying on” was important for Lois Hunn in her family life. For her, life with her husband was tightly bound up with the Church so carrying on involved Sacred Heart Parish.

“He couldn’t separate family life and Church life,” she said. “He couldn’t categorize. We had to be together.

“People were so amazed that I came to church right away after he died,” she said. “They couldn’t believe that I was there. And I said, ‘This is where we shared so much of our faith.’ ”

Sharing the faith was at the core of who Hunn was as a catechetical leader.

And it was also at the heart of a message he passed on—just days before he died—to John Jacobi, the director of religious education at St. Michael Parish in Bradford.

“He was still ministering from his hospital bed,” Jacobi said. “When I would leave, he would give me a little nugget to take with me. He told me—and I don’t think that I’ll ever forget this—‘John, the way that catechesis began was that Jesus taught and the Apostles shared that with other people. And then they shared that with other people. And then they shared that with other people. And now we’re sharing that same teaching with other people.’ ”

As inspiring as Hunn was in his final days, Harry Dudley, OCE’s associate executive director for faith formation, also held him up for the example he gave in his years of Church ministry to other parish catechetical leaders in the archdiocese.

“I think one of the main lessons I learned from him is humility,” Dudley said. “He remained a learner and a disciple up to the last moment.”

Hunn participated in many online courses on theology offered by the University of Dayton and the University of Notre Dame. He also attended catechetical workshops offered in the archdiocese.

But, Lois Hunn said, all this learning was directed toward better serving Sacred Heart parishioners.

“When my son and I cleaned out his office, we found all of these folders with all of the different [workshops] that he had gone to over the past couple of years,” she said. “And in the margins, he had written down how he could use [the information he gained]. He would bring that back to the parish, and I just thought that was a real gift he had.”

Dudley said he hopes that Bill Hunn’s example will have a lasting impact in the archdiocese.

“I think if people would carry on their ministry in the way he did—enabling others, always with that same humility that they need to be lifelong learners—I think what we do would be better,” Dudley said. “He always knew that no matter how good it was, he revised and improved and made it better each time.” †


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