Last Updated: Tuesday - 01/04/2011
June 25, 2001
Cunningham marks 50th anniversary of ordination
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
EDMONTON — Fifty years have passed since Spiritan Father John Cunningham, pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish for the past 12 years, was ordained a priest.
These years, spent in travels and parish service far from his native Ireland, will be recalled in a parish celebration June 29.
Cunningham, who has announced plans to retire in the coming months, was born July 8, 1924 in Quilty, County Clare, in the south of Ireland and grew up there.
He attended Rockwell College in Tipperary, run by the Holy Ghost Fathers, better known as Spiritans.
In his final year of college he was introduced to some missionaries who had just returned from Africa and told hair-raising stories of their experiences.
"They made the whole thing so exciting for us that I immediately got interested," Cunningham recalled.
He joined the Spiritan novitiate in Kilshane, Tipperary, full of expectations.
He was ordained in July 1951 in Dublin and his first assignment was in Nigeria. After five years ministering to the Ibo people, Cunningham fell ill and returned to Dublin for medical attention. To his disappointment, he never returned to his beloved Nigeria.
Following his recovery, he served for short periods at Manchester and Coventry in England and then taught for some years at Blackrock College, a boys school in Dublin that was run by his order.
Cunningham arrived in Canada in May 1960, and served in Guelph and Woodstock, Ont., for about six years.
He came to Edmonton in August 1966. Holy Spirit Parish was his first parish and he served there for seven years.
In 1973, Cunningham was appointed to pastor of five communities north of Edmonton: Villeneuve, Riviere Qui Barre, Calahoo, Mearns and Busby. In 1975 he was appointed to St. Andrew's Parish where he served for 14 years.
In August 1989 he was welcomed to Immaculate Heart Parish, where he says "it is a pleasure to serve."
One of the most noticeable changes at Immaculate Heart since Cunningham arrived is the increased attendance of younger families. Parishioners say it's the priest's charm and excellent sermons that have made the difference.
In addition to ministering to a growing congregation, Cunningham has always made time for Catholic students as well as the elderly and sick of his parish.
He has been actively involved in visiting St. James and J.H. Picard Catholic schools, where he is held as a model priest.
He also celebrates Mass for the chronically ill at the Good Samaritan Hospital every second week, visits parishioners in hospitals, and brings Communion to the elderly and house-bound of the parish.
"I think he is a great priest, a great asset to the parish," said his secretary and friend Hope Holst.
But not everything in Cunningham's life is Church-related. He is an avid soccer fan who can get up at 5 a.m. to catch a game on television. He also has a tendency to disappear over Grey Cup weekend. Hockey, the opera, children and a good cup of tea also figure prominently among the priest's likes.
"I've been very happy as a priest over the past 50 years," Cunningham said. "I don't regret anything."
He plans to return to Ireland following his retirement for a visit. "My preference would be to retire in Edmonton."
Immaculate Heart will celebrate a Mass of thanksgiving in his honour on June 29 at 7 p.m. The public is invited.
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