On March 4, 2019, a brother, uncle, friend, and pastor to all, passed peacefully from Earth in his sleep to his eternal resting place in Heaven with the Lord he loved and served so well. Father John “Jack” Hunthausen, 91 years wise, infused the world around him with kindness, humorous wit, and peace. As a devoted priest, he served in nearly every Catholic parish in the Helena Diocese and forged lasting friendships wherever he set foot.
John Frederick Hunthausen was born to Anthony Gerhardt and Edna Marie (Tuchscherer) Hunthausen in Anaconda, Montana, on July 25, 1927, the middle child of seven. He was baptized in the Catholic Church on July 31, 1927.
Jack’s distinguished athletic career began as a sixth-grader when he was crowned the boy’s city speed-skating champion of Anaconda. After graduating from St. Paul’s grade school in 1941, he attended Anaconda High School, where his athletic prowess only continued; quarterbacking the football team that twice won the class “A” championship (1943, 1944), leading the Copperhead basketball team to victory as captain, playing center fielder for the American Legion baseball team, and winning the state pole vault in 1944.
Jack graduated from Carroll College with a degree in philosophy in 1948. While at Carroll, Jack’s athletic capabilities were put on exhibit. He was named 1st Team All-Conference in basketball and football in 1947, as well as the basketball MVP of what is now the Frontier Conference. In 1948, he placed second in pole vault. In 1976, he was recognized as one of the first five inductees into the Carroll College Basketball Hall of Fame.
Jack attended St. Edward’s Seminary in Kenmore, Washington, where he received his theology degree. He was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Helena by Bishop Joseph Gilmore at the Cathedral of St. Helena on April 30, 1952. Soon after, on Sunday, May 4, 1952, he offered his first Mass at St. Paul’s Church in Anaconda.
He began his ministry at St. Patrick’s Parish in Butte (1952-1955), to which he later returned (1978-1983). He also served at St. Peter’s in Anaconda (1955-1956); St. James in Plains and Sacred Heart in Hot Springs (1967-1970), St. Anthony’s in Missoula (1970-1977), Holy Rosary in Bozeman (1977-1978), St. Charles Borromeo in Whitefish (1983-1991), and St. Rose of Lima in Dillon, with missions in Melrose, Wisdom, and Lima (1991-1997).
Though he officially retired at age 70, he spent the next fourteen years serving the people of Montana wherever he could assist. In this semi-retirement, Fr. Jack was the administrator in Plains, Hot Springs, Thompson Falls, and Noxon (1997-1999); in Hamilton (2000-2001); in White Sulphur Springs and Harlowton (2001-2002); in Seeley Lake and Helmville (2002-2003); and in Helmville and Lincoln (2002-2011). He reached full retirement in 2011 at the age of 84.
Throughout his ministry, he was able to live fully his life’s mission as a down-to-earth, compassionate, and witty pastor that served every type of person and parish. From the Hispanic masses on the ranches in Beaverhead County, to the masses for Whitefish resort vacationers, Fr. Jack created lasting friendships with parishioners across the state. He was a living example of a faithful and devoted servant.
Along with his parish ministry, Fr. Jack was an educator and coach. He served as Priest Director at Anaconda Central (1955-1956); taught and coached at Carroll College (1956-1962), where he led the football team to the conference championship (1957-1960); worked as the Priest Director at Cathedral High School (1962-1967); and oversaw the construction of Helena Central High (what is now Helena Capital High School) in 1965, after which he became the school’s first principal. Fr. Jack also willingly served as a member of the Carroll College Board of Trustees for twelve years, Chaplain for the Knights of Columbus in Montana for two years, and a Diocesan Personnel Board Member.
His happiest times were those he shared with family members at numerous reunions and gatherings. His siblings, nieces, nephews, and their many children affectionately referred to him as “Jacky-Wack,” and he always knew the details of each of their lives – from the oldest grandparent to the youngest baby. His recitations of cowboy poetry (Kelly the One Eye) and ballads (Wanda from Anaconda) drew enthusiastic crowds. Skiers of all ages delighted in his shouting, “Powder River!” as he sped down the mountain. His lead-in line for many a beloved story – “I fell out of a tree once” – brought smiles of anticipation to all in his presence.
Fr. Jack maintained a steadfast love for the outdoors. From golfing with the elders, hiking the Pintlars and Pioneers, and fishing Montana’s many lakes and rivers, he always took time to marvel at God’s wondrous creations. His love of outdoor photography allowed him to capture his many memories, which included many summers “jumping off the dock” at Moose Lake and Legendary Lodge with his family and friends.
For the last several years of his life, he lived in an assisted living in Helena alongside his brothers, Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen and Tony Hunthausen, where they celebrated Mass daily with Father Jeremiah Sullivan. He welcomed a steady stream of visitors, both family and friends.
Throughout his entire life, Fr. Jack lived by the four commandments of contentment outlined by author Tim Hansel: (1) Thou shalt live here and now; (2) Thou shalt not hurry; (3) Thou shalt not take thyself too seriously; and (4) Thou shalt be grateful. He showed a particular dedication to number three, maintaining a sharp wit and cracking jokes until the end.
Fr. Jack was preceded in death by his parents; his brothers, Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen and Art Hunthausen; his sister, Marie Hunthausen Walsh; his sisters-in-law Donna Kane Hunthausen and Harriet Wetherill Hunthausen; his brothers-in-law Pat Walsh and John Stergar; his nephews Pat Walsh, Ed Walsh, Jack Walsh, Ray Hunthausen, and Joseph Gerard Hunthausen; and great-nephews; Patrick Thomas Walsh Kelly, Robert Scott Miller, and Walt Woodrow Hunthausen.
He is survived by his brother Tony Hunthausen; his sisters, Sister Edna Hunthausen, of the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth, Kansas, and Jean Hunthausen Stergar of Anaconda; and by his 34 nieces and nephews and their spouses, 101 great-nieces and nephews, and 65 great-great nieces and nephews.
Visitation hours will be from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm Monday March 11th at Anderson Stevenson Wilke Funeral Home 3750 N Montana Ave. A vigil will be Monday March 11th at the Cathedral of St. Helena at 6:00 pm at 530 N Ewing St., Helena. A Mass of Christian Burial will be at noon on Tuesday March 12th at the Cathedral of St. Helena. A reception will follow at the Cathedral’s Brondel Center. A Rite of Committal will follow the reception at Resurrection Cemetery, 3685 N Montana at 2:30 pm.