Bishop Cunningham is well-acquainted with parts of diocese - Catholic Courier

Bishop Cunningham is well-acquainted with parts of diocese

Although Diocese of Syracuse Bishop Robert J. Cunningham, who was named apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Rochester Sept. 21, has never served in the Diocese of Rochester, he has roots in the area.

Both of his parents, the late Cecil and Grace Cunningham, were Rochestarians, and his brother and sister were born here. His mother belonged to St. Monica Parish, and his father belonged to Corpus Christi Parish.

"Some of my first recollections of church are St. Monica," Bishop Cunningham said, noting that he frequently visited grandparents here.

Even after his family moved to Buffalo in the late 1930s, his parents remained connected to their Rochester roots, journeying back to Rochester every other week to play in a bridge club.

Bishop Cunningham, 69, was born and raised in Buffalo and attended St. John the Baptist Parish Elementary School, the Diocesan Preparatory Seminary in Buffalo and St. John Vianney Seminary, East Aurora, where he earned bachelor’s and a master’s degrees. In 1978 he received a licentiate in canon law from Catholic University of America.

He was ordained to the priesthood by Auxiliary Bishop Bernard J. McLaughlin on May 24, 1969, at St. Joseph New Cathedral in Buffalo. He served as pastor of St. Louis Church in downtown Buffalo, associate pastor of Blessed Sacrament Parish, Kenmore, and assistant pastor of his home parish, St. John the Baptist, Kenmore.

He also has had extensive experience shepherding upstate dioceses. In Buffalo, he served as diocesan chancellor, assistant chancellor and vice chancellor; vicar general; a judge in the marriage tribunal; and secretary to Buffalo’s Bishop Edward D. Head. He was named a monsignor by Pope John Paul II in 1984.

In December 2003, the Buffalo Diocese’s College of Consultors elected him diocesan administrator when then-Bishop Henry J. Mansell was appointed to lead the Archdiocese of Hartford, Conn. He was appointed the 13th Bishop of Ogdensburg March 9, 2004, and installed May 18, 2004, at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Ogdensburg.

He was appointed 10th Bishop of the Diocese of Syracuse on April 21, 2009, and installed on May 26, 2009, at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Syracuse.

Bishop Cunningham described his new role in the Rochester Diocese as that of a caretaker helping the diocese to prepare for its next bishop.

"I came here to help span the bridge between Bishop Clark and his successor," Bishop Cunningham said. "I look forward to being among you as a person who serves."

He said he wants the Diocese of Rochester to know that although he has other obligations as Bishop of Syracuse, he will try to be available as much as possible.

"It’s easier today with modern technology to be present in a variety of ways," Bishop Cunningham remarked.

He said he intends for those in the diocese to continue the work they have been doing, and quipped that he would "try not to get in their way."

"I think Bishop Clark has developed an excellent team of people who work here in the diocese," Bishop Cunningham said. "I will be counting on them to continue their good work, their good ministry, and I will try to respond to their needs and questions."

Emphasizing that his role in Rochester is not that of bishop, Bishop Cunningham noted that "when a person comes into a diocese, he has to get to know the diocese and its people. That’s going to be my goal."

Contributing to this story was Karen Franz.

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