by PETER GRACE
A baby born to Irish farmers in 1924 ended up living as a saint in New Zealand, according to his eulogist, Fr Stuart Sellar.
Msgr Vincent Hunt died in Auckland on October 8 at Mercy Parklands Hospital.
Msgr Hunt’s requiem Mass was celebrated by the Bishop of Auckland, Bishop Patrick Dunn, on October 13. Five other bishops and dozens of other priests were present.
According to Fr Sellar, the young Vincent joined the Columban Fathers at Dalgan Park. However, after a short time at the Columban Seminary he developed tuberculosis and had to take time out to recuperate. He then went to Belfast, where he studied modern philosophy, at Queen’s University.
He was then accepted for a diocese in California, Fr Sellar said. At Ellis Island, however, he had to go through a medical check. “And when they discovered he had had TB, he was immediately put on a boat back.He was very hurt by that.”
The young man was not sure what he was going to do. But he learned Bishop James Liston of Auckland was looking for seminarians. So he studied at Thurles, in Tipperary and, after
ordination, came to New Zealand.
The new priest did parish work in Hamilton, then Takapuna. Then Bishop Liston asked him to teach atthe minor seminary in Christchurch.
When the minor seminary closed,Fr Hunt moved to Mosgiel to teach philosophy. However, he was then asked to go to Rome to study moral theology. He then returned to Mosgiel, where he taught philosophy and moral theology, having a very humane approach to both subjects, according to Fr Sellar.
He was taken by surprise when he was asked to be rector at the seminary.
“He was such a humble man in the very best sense of the word. He didn’t think he had the gifts, but, in fact, he did. All the seminarians in Mosgiel loved his genuine concern for them.”
His kindliness as a professor is shown in a story involving a particular student, he told the funeral congregation.
“This particular student was struggling with philosophy and he handed in an essay that he literally copied from a book. According to the legend, Vince asked the student to see him.
“When the student sat down, he asked, ‘Is this your work? Did you write it?’ And the student said, ‘No, I copied it out of the book’. ‘Yes, yes, I know that. What I really want to know is, did you understand it?’
“And the student said, ‘No, but I thought you would’.”
There were many emptyings and sufferings in his life. “There was his earliest struggle to become a priest, his ill health that ended with his lung removed and what many wouldn’t realise was his confusion at being named rector of the seminary.
“I don’t know why I’ve been asked to be a rector,” he said. “I’ve never organised anything.
I couldn’t even organise a brown paper bag.”
But being a rector was not mainly about being organised, but about being a man with a heart and soul, a humble man transformed by grace.
“I’ve met three saints in my life,” Fr Sellar said, “and Vincent Hunt was one of them.”
He was a man consulted by bishops in Australia and New Zealand for his prudence, wisdom and judgment. He had a lovely humanity about him.
He had an extraordinary sense of humour. Fr Sellar said he was in Australia at one time and Vince Hunt came and stayed with him. “He was going into the city, so I told him where to catch the train. And after an hour or so, he was back. ‘Didn’t you get into the city?’ I asked. ‘I slipped down between the platform and train,’ he answered.
“And I asked: ‘How far did you fall?’ ‘Oh, I didn’t get all the way,’ he replied.”
Msgr Vincent Hunt’s appointments: Takapuna, 1952-54; Grey Lynn 1955; Hamilton East 1955-
68; Holy Name Seminary, 1969-78; Holy Cross College, 1979-1998 (rector 1991-95); Catholic Institute of Theology, 1999-2000; Chaplain to Sisters of Mercy, St Mary’s Bay, 1999-2013.