Monsignor Leonard F. Hurley, the Catholic priest who conducted President John F. Kennedy’s Requiem Mass narration for a worldwide television and radio audience in 1963, died April 27 at a health care center in Washington. He was 84.
The death was announced by the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington. No cause was given.
Hurley was founding pastor of Germantown’s Mother Seton Parish, where he served from 1974 until 1987. A boulevard in Germantown, Maryland, is named in his honor, to recognize his community work.
Just five years into his priesthood, Hurley was teaching a religious class at a Catholic elementary school in Washington when Kennedy was assassinated Nov. 22, 1963. The priest had a strong voice and an effective cadence in his speech, and he ad-libbed skillfully.
He had done prayers for the beginning and ending of the broadcast days for local television stations. He would serve for 13 years as director of radio and television communications for the archdiocese.
Soon after the president was killed, Hurley was summoned to the office of Cardinal Patrick O’Boyle.
Kennedy’s Requiem Mass would be in Latin. Hurley’s job was to narrate the proceedings in English so audiences could understand what was going on. Hurley went on the air live from a basement broadcast booth directly under the altar at Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington. He was surrounded by several television monitors and a dozen radio and TV technicians.
“I was there to do a job,” he once said, according to the Catholic Standard newspaper. “I had done play-by-play descriptions of many church ceremonies. I could do the bridge between this, that and the other thing.”
The priest also knew when not to talk. When the president’s young son, John F. Kennedy Jr., saluted his father’s flag-draped coffin outside the cathedral, Hurley let the pictures tell the story.
“I let that ride,” he said.
Leonard Francis Hurley was born in Dorchester, Massachusetts, on April 1, 1931. He was ordained in 1958 at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle. As diocesan director of radio and television communications, he had presided over religious talk shows on Sunday mornings and television Mass for the home-bound. At Christmas, he narrated the Midnight Mass from the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington.
In 1974, Hurley arrived in Germantown as founding pastor of Mother Seton Parish, just as townhouses were beginning to replace farmhouses across what had been a rural landscape. His first church there was a two-bedroom bungalow, but Sunday services later were held at Germantown Elementary School and then Seneca Valley High School. In 1981, a new Mother Seton Church Center opened on Germantown Drive, which in 1987 became Father Hurley Boulevard.
“He reached out to everyone, not just Catholics,” Bill Vita, an ordained deacon and a member of Mother Seton Parish, said. To build his church, he relied heavily on volunteers, “but he never asked one of his parishioners to do anything he didn’t do,” Vita said, recalling at least one occasion when he found the monsignor on the roof of one of his buildings, making repairs.
After leaving Mother Seton, Hurley served other Maryland churches. Starting in the mid-1990s, he became chaplain at Carroll Manor nursing home in Washington and was simultaneously coordinator of pastoral care for sick and retired priests of the archdiocese at the adjoining O’Boyle residence. He retired in 2014.
A list of survivors was not immediately available.
The monsignor was not overly enthusiastic about having a road named after him, preferring to remain out of the public spotlight. But he sometimes liked to joke about having his name included in radio and television traffic updates.
At Carroll Manor, he was known to have observed, “the nurses say, ‘I hear Father Hurley was backed up this morning.’ I say, ‘I think that’s a private matter.’ “