Joseph R. Hacala, 61, a Jesuit priest who was special assistant to the secretary of the Department of Health and Urban Development for four years, died of amyloidosis Feb. 19 at St. Mary's Hospital at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.
The Rev. Hacala, who in recent years was president of Wheeling Jesuit University in West Virginia, served as special assistant to HUD Secretary Andrew Cuomo and director of HUD's Community and Interfaith Outreach from 1997 until 2001. While living and working in Washington for 15 years, he assisted at St. Aloysius Church near Capitol Hill.
His career was steeped in social services work. His first assignment after his ordination in 1975 was in a poverty-stricken corner of southern West Virginia.
"I remember the house where we lived in Griffithsville that fall -- no running water and no heat," he told an Associated Press reporter in 1999 as he organized a conference about areas of the country left out of the economic boom of the late 1990s.
"We have to get people to realize that at the turn of the millennium, in the wealthiest nation on earth, there are people who still don't have safe drinking water," he said. "We have an economy that is daily setting new records, and now we need to figure out how to help those people who don't sit around waiting for the closing bell to ring on Wall Street."
Before working in the federal government, Rev. Hacala was executive director of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development at the U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference. From 1984 to 1990, he was director of the National Office of Jesuit Social Ministries at the National Jesuit Conference in Washington.
He was born in Charleston, W.Va., entered the Society of Jesus in 1962 and graduated from Loyola University in Chicago. He received a master's degree in social work in 1970 from the University of Illinois and a second master's degree in divinity from Regis College in Toronto in 1975.
After his work at HUD, Rev. Hacala became rector of the Jesuit community at Wheeling Jesuit University. He was named president in 2003, serving until last September. According to the university, while president, he established new student service opportunities, opened the Service for Social Action Center, reinstated annual liturgical celebrations and restructured the university's finances.
Survivors include four brothers.