Bishop Cunningham has always made time for nieces, nephews
by Luke Eggleston SUN staff writer
The era into which Bishop Robert Cunningham was born was a little different from that of today.
Despite the numerous obligations of his office, Bishop Cunningham’s family remains an integral part of his life.
“Family is very important to me. I pray that my parents enjoy the peace of heaven. I am close to my brother and sister and their families. I look forward to being with them on all the big occasions of their lives, at holidays and at normal family gatherings,” Bishop Cunningham said. “The family is where we first learn our values and how to get along with people. It is the domestic church. Faith plays a healthy role in our family relationships. They are supportive of me and I count on their presence in my life — a great gift of God.”
The Kenmore neighborhood where he grew up was comprised of traditional nuclear families and the family of Cecil and Grace Cunningham was cut from the same cloth. Family life revolved around the parish community, which was, for the Cunningham family, St. John the Baptist Church.
“Our neighborhood was typical of most neighborhoods in the [1940s and 1950s]. It was very quiet and family oriented. We were very close to the neighbors,” said Eileen Korn, the bishop’s sister.
“He’s very family oriented,” said Korn who, with her husband Dr. Ronald Korn, are parents of Greg, Kathleen, Doug, Gary, Carolyn and Kevin. Greg and Kathleen both live in Buffalo, while the others are scattered throughout the U.S.
Bishop Cunningham has retained the values of his formative years into his adulthood.
According to Korn, the bishop makes time for his nieces and nephews whenever possible either via email or phone calls or visits.
“We do get to see him whenever he’s in Buffalo,” said Korn, the eldest of the three Cunningham siblings. “We’ve always been close.”
The bishop’s older brother Patrick Cunningham served in the military for 30 years, including the Vietnam War. He is currently the director of the Naval and Military Park in downtown Buffalo. He agreed that the family has always been close.
“I think we were a close-knit, religious family,” said Patrick Cunningham, who now lives in the Buffalo suburb of Getzville and attends St. Pius X Church. Patrick Cunningham and his wife, Sheila, are parents of Colleen, Michael, Sean, Patrick and Kathleen. Because of his military career, Patrick Cunningham’s children only lived in Buffalo for one year. The three sons live in Florida and Colleen lives in Indianapolis. Kathleen Kappel is the only child still living in Buffalo.
Despite his clerical and administrative responsibilities, Bishop Cunningham is diligent when it comes to communicating with his nieces and nephews, both Patrick Cunningham and Korn agreed.
“He’s always checking on them and just always knows what they’re doing,” said Korn, who now attends Our Lady of Peace Church in the Buffalo suburb of Clarence Center. “He’s always been close to our kids and to my brother and me.”
Bishop Cunningham baptized each of his nieces and nephews and most of greatnieces and greatnephews as well.
Both Korn and Cunningham knew early on that their younger brother was destined for the priesthood.
“He was always committed and we never questioned it,” Korn said. “He always seemed happy with his decision.”
“Everyone in the family knew that was what he wanted to do,” Patrick Cunningham said.
Korn said one of the strongest influences on Bishop Cunningham was Msgr. Charles Klauder, the pastor at the family’s home parish, St. John the Baptist.
“We had a wonderful pastor at St. John and Bob [Bishop Cunningham] and he were always close,” Korn said. “He always talked about becoming a priest but you can’t be sure.”
Patrick Cunningham said that his parents were very proud of the bishop’s decision to pursue a religious vocation, adding that the family was also overjoyed at the news of his elevation to bishop of the Ogdensburg Diocese.
“[I experienced] joy and a feeling that it was a well deserved and overdue honor,” Patrick Cunningham said.
Many of the faithful in the Ogdensburg Diocese described Bishop Cunningham as very balanced and compassionate in his approach to issues. The bishop’s family used similar adjectives to describe the 10th bishop of the Syracuse Diocese and said that those were always his traits.
Korn echoed those sentiments, “He’s very fair and listens to both sides.”
“He was always a hard worker and even growing up he was compassionate,” Patrick Cunningham said.