Father Phillip James Cunningham, CSP, dies
by Stefani Manowski
March 14, 2011
Father Phillip James Cunningham, CSPFather Phillip James Cunningham, CSP

A funeral Mass for Father Phillip James Cunningham, CSP, will be offered March 16 at 10 a.m. at Old St. Mary’s Cathedral in San Francisco. Father Cunningham, a member of the Missionary Society of St. Paul the Apostle, the Paulist Fathers, for 60 years, died on March 11. He was 88.

Father Cunningham was born in Sioux City, Iowa, on May 23, 1922. He earned a bachelor’s degree at the University of California at Los Angeles before earning a master’s degree at St. Paul’s College in Washington, D.C. and a master’s degree in liberal arts from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

Before entering the Paulist Fathers, Father Cunningham served in the Army Air Corps from 1942-45. He made first promises with the Paulists on Sept. 8, 1950, and final promises on Sept. 8, 1953. Ordination came on May 3, 1956 at the Church of St. Paul the Apostle in New York.

Father Thomas Stransky, former president of the Paulist Fathers who was one year behind Father Cunningham in the seminary, recalls his Paulist brother as a “compulsive reader.”

Make a gift in memory of Fr. Cunningham After his ordination, Father Cunningham served as a summer assistant at St. Paul the Apostle Church in Los Angeles. He went into pastoral ministry at the Church of the Good Shepherd in New York from 1955-63.

Father Cunningham then engaged in a special ministry at the Catholic Center of the Universidad Central in Caracas, Venezuela, from 1963-64. He returned to the United States and parish ministry at Old St. Mary’s in San Francisco from 1964-66.

He then headed east to Catholic campus ministry at Johns Hopkins University from 1966-78. It was at Hopkins that Father Cunningham’s ministry would shine.

“He had a deep commitment to campus ministry, both to the students and the faculty,” Father Stransky said. “That is kind of unique. Most people can only relate to one group or the other.”

Students and faculty alike were drawn to Mass on Hopkins’ campus because of Father Cunningham’s gift. He was also able to get faculty volunteers for discussion groups and the like, leading Catholic campus ministry to become one of the intellectual hotspots at Hopkins, Father Stransky said.

Father Cunningham left Hopkins to become associate pastor at the Church of Santa Susanna in Rome from 1978-80, where Father Cunningham began a campus ministry of sorts for English-speaking students attending the University of Rome, according to Father Stransky.

Father Cunningham returned to campus ministry at the University of California at San Diego (La Jolla) from 1980-88 before serving as associate pastor at St. Cyril Church in Tucson, Ariz., in 1988. He retired from active ministry in 1988, and was a resident of the Mercy Center in Oakland, Calif., at the time of his death.

“He was one of our kind intellectuals,” Father Stransky said.