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Jerry Earl Johnston: Recalling the tremendous legacy and 'energy' of Bishop Hunt

Published: Friday, April 29 2011 3:54 p.m. MDT

When our cell phones run down, we're quick to charge them with fresh power.

I wish we were just as quick to "re-charge" the names of people who were once an influence for good in society — names that slowly fade away, unless we give them new energy.

Last week I came across one such name — a name that merits a renewed jolt of power for Utahns.

I found it while thumbing through the "Dictionary of Christian Biography." At the back of the book I stumbled on a section listing the place of death of prominent Christians of the world. There were hundreds from Rome, Paris, London and other world capitals. But the book featured only three names from Utah — Brigham Young, David O. McKay and Duane Garrison Hunt.

It was a sadly small, but distinguished group.

The first two names you probably know well.

It's the third name I'm plugging into my charger today for a burst of new energy.

Duane Garrison Hunt was the bishop of the Salt Lake City Diocese of the Catholic Church. He died in 1960. He was a gifted speaker. When he preached, he held congregations in his hand. But more than that, he started a weekly radio program where he spoke to the masses.

Back in the 1940s and 1950s, Utah was very much a land of religious tribes — Catholics, Mormons, Jews, Methodists. The divisions still exist today. But thanks to Bishop Hunt, the sharp, jagged edges between the various groups were softened and understanding began to replace suspicion. His program, "Catholic Hour," was a staple on KSL Radio for 25 years.

His list of accomplishments is long and varied. He directed choirs, published books with national publishers, coached baseball and was awarded honorary doctorates from several universities.

But it was that little 60-minute radio conversation with Utahns — and the rest of the nation — that became his most visible legacy.

The book "Salt of the Earth" by Bernice Maher Mooney says: "Often never even mentioning Catholicism, he presented logical discussions on religious topics.

"During the years of World War II the radio carried, among war messages and news bulletins, Bishop Hunt's voice out to listeners scattered from the Missouri River to the Pacific shore and from Salt Lake City to the northernmost settlements of Canada."

He spoke of "Changeless Faith in a Changing World," "The Survival of Christianity" and other timely topics in more an 1,000 programs.

Much of the current success of Utah's interfaith efforts can be laid at his feet.

He broke down barriers and built up hope.

His name deserves to be "charged up" every few years and presented with newfound power to the people of Utah.

EMAIL: jerjohn@desnews.com

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