Jesuit priest Joseph R. Hacala, 61, former special assistant to the secretary of the Department of Health and Urban Development during the Clinton administration, died of a rare organ disease in February while receiving care at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. Hacala, a West Virginia native, had served most recently as the president of Wheeling Jesuit University in West Virginia. Hacala's first mission after his ordination in 1975 was to the poverty-stricken coal fields of southern West Virginia. A fierce commitment to the poor and to social justice shaped his ministry throughout his life.
Prior to his work at HUD, Hacala was executive director of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development and director of the National Office of Jesuit Social Ministries, and he served pastorally at St. Aloysius Church in Washington, D.C. He was profoundly impacted by the Appalachian Catholic Bishops' pastoral letter, "This Land is Home to Me," issued in February 1975, which declares, "The living God, the Lord whom we worship, is the God of the poor."