August 18th: Saint Albert Hurtado Cruchaga, SJ

Saint Albert Hurtado Cruchaga, SJ

Born: January22, 1901
Died: August 18, 1952
Beatified: October 16, 1995
Canonised: October 23, 2005

Fr Albert was born in Vina del Mar, Chile. Although his parents were of an old aristocratic family, they were without wealth and lived on a small estate. His father died when Albert was only four, and his mother had to sell the farm below market value, to pay off the family debts. His mother took Albert and his brother to live with relatives. Albert knew what was to be poor from an early age and remembered how frequently the family had to move. He attended the Jesuit school in Santiago on a scholarship. Since young, Albert showed deep concern for the poor who lived in the slums. He spent each Sunday afternoon helping them. He postponed his desire to become a Jesuit until his mother and brother were better provided for. After leaving school, he worked afternoons and evenings to help support the family and also to support his law studies at the Catholic University, all this while he continued his Sunday afternoons by being close to the poor. After his graduation, at 22 years, he finally entered the Jesuit novitiate. He went to Spain to read Philosophy in 1925. When the Society was dissolved in Spain in 1932, Albert went to Ireland and later to Louvain where he finished his Theology and was ordained in Belgium in 1933.

Albert returned to Santiago in 1936 to teach Religion at St Ignatius School and gave adult classes in Pedagogy at the Catholic University. He was also in charge of the School’s Sodality and involved its members in apostolate work, especially teaching Catechism in the villages. He conducted retreats and later built a retreat house next to the Jesuit novitiate, resulting in many vocations to the priesthood. From 1941 to 1944, Fr Albert was appointed Director of Catholic Action, first in the archdiocese and then on the national level. He also started a hospice for youth, and later, one for women and children in Santiago with donations from generous benefactors who were moved by his appeal for the poor in the city. This was the beginning of El Hogar de Cristo. The hospices increased in number and not only did they offer the poor shelter for the night but also helped re-habilitate people and taught them true Christian values.

Fr Albert studied Sociology in Georgetown, USA. He also studied the operations and management of Fr Flanagan’s Boys Town to adapt it to his own country. His last 6 years were devoted to the spread of these hospices in many Chilean cities, and today they are found throughout South America. He also wrote books and published periodicals which explained the Church’s social teachings. Although only 50, Fr Albert’s health began to fail and it was discovered that he had pancreatic cancer. Despite his great pain, he was heard to say, “I am content, O Lord, I am content”. He lingered for more than a year and died in 1951 surrounded by his Jesuit brethren. At his funeral, great crowds came to bid farewell to their beloved priest.

Fr Albert Hurtado is remembered for his charity and Christ-like love of the poor and for El Hogar de Cristo, the Catholic charity that provides a place for the homeless to live. He was beatified by Pope John Paul II on October 16, 1994 and subsequently canonised by him on October 23, 2005.