Syracuse Diocese welcomes Bishop-designate Robert Cunningham

By Luke Eggleston and Claudia Mathis
Sun Staff Writers

Tuesday, April 21, priests, religious, administrators and members of the faithful of the Syracuse Diocese gathered at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception to welcome Bishop Robert J. Cunningham.

The Syracuse Diocese’s new bishop-designate most recently served in the nearby Ogdensburg Diocese since 2004.

Many priests of the Syracuse Diocese were already familiar with Bishop Cunningham, some since his tenure as an administrator in the Buffalo Diocese.

Current Bishop James Moynihan submitted his letter of resignation on July 6, 2007. He introduced his successor at the Tuesday press conference in downtown Syracuse.
“I have known and worked with Bishop Cunningham for many years and witnessed his many gifts and talents. He is a pastor first and foremost, loyal to his people and a genuine shepherd of souls,” Bishop Moynihan.

Bishop Cunningham will be formally installed May 26 at the Cathedral.

Syracuse Diocese Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Costello has known the new bishop for nearly 40 years. The auxiliary bishop and Bishop Cunningham were acquainted when the latter served as chancellor or vicar general of the Buffalo Diocese.

“He’s a good administrator. His service in the Diocese of Buffalo was as chancellor and vicar general and he was one of the real important managers of that diocese from an administrative point of view. He did great work in the Chancery,” Bishop Costello said.

Msgr. Richard Kopp was also familiar with Bishop Cunningham when he served as chancellor of the Buffalo Diocese.

“I had the most experience with him when he was chancellor. I found him to be very even-keeled and very analytical in terms of problems, and a very sharp individual,” said Msgr. Kopp, Vicar for Priest Personnel. “We’re delighted to have him.”

Msgr. Kopp added that Bishop Cunningham’s relative familiarity with the Syracuse area will help the acclimation process. He also stressed that the new bishop-designate was highly regarded in the Ogdensburg Diocese.

“He’s kind of a local. He knows the area and he’s very familiar with it. He’s done a wonderful job up in Ogdensburg. People love him up there,” Msgr. Kopp said.

Father John Putano, pastor of Our Lady of Sorrows Church in Vestal and Vicar for the Southern Region, did not know Bishop Cunningham before his introduction, but he greeted the arrival of the new bishop with enthusiasm. He said that many of his fellow priests have praised Bishop Cunningham.

“I was excited that we finally had a new bishop and that he’s one who is famiiar with some of the priests in the diocese and so I was looking forward to it,” Father Putano said. “I know of him through some of the priests locally and they speak very highly of him.”

Msgr. Robert Yeazel, pastor of Holy Cross Church in DeWitt, and Bishop Cunningham became close friends when they were both serving as chancellors of their respective dioceses. According to Msgr. Yeazel, that friendship grew during the years that Bishop Cunningham ministered in the Buffalo Diocese and then also when he served in the Ogdensburg Diocese.

“He’s astute, he’s insightful, just and kind,” Msgr. Yeazel said. “He’s a person who is
truly there to serve and he does so always in a compassionate manner. He has always
been that way. He just wants everyone to know that God loves them and he does that through ministry and also administration. He’ll do a marvelous, marvelous job here.”

Several officials from the Ogdensburg Diocese said they were disappointed by the news that Bishop Cunningham would be leaving, but they all stressed that the Syracuse Diocese was fortunate to have him.

“You are very lucky,” said North Country Catholic editor Mary Lou Kilian upon learning that Bishop Cunningham had been appointed to the Syracuse Diocese.

“He’s good. He’s wonderful to work with,” said Sister Jennifer Votraw, SSJ, the communications director and vice chancellor of the Ogdensburg Diocese. “He’s extremely organized and efficient, but affable and even-tempered. He’s very pastoral. He’s excellent with pastoral issues. You couldn’t ask for a better person to work with.”

Sister Jennifer stressed the uniquely balanced perspective Bishop Cunningham brings to the diocese’s highest office.

“He’s very bright and he grasps issues quickly. He has a broad vision but he’s detail oriented,” she said. “The key word for him is balance.”

Several lay officials of the Syracuse Diocese were also elated with the imminent arrival of Bishop Cunningham.

Chancery receptionist Delores Ratowski said she is pleased with the appointment of Bishop Cunningham and that he is from New York. “He seems like he’s a personable and grounded person, one who is in touch with the needs of the people,” she said.

Kate Anderson, administrative assistant to Bishop James Moynihan, is impressed by Bishop Cunningham’s good character and said she is “really thrilled” about the appointment. “He’s been good to Bishop Moynihan,” Anderson said. She was touched by Bishop Cunningham’s concern for Bishop Moynihan’s recent health problems. “He often called for updates on his condition,” said Anderson. “He seems like a very gentle man.”

“I’m very excited to welcome Bishop Cunningham to our diocese,” said Debra Sochan, chief financial officer of the diocesan finance office. Sochan said she met Bishop Cunningham when he served as chancellor of the Diocese of Buffalo. “I’m looking forward to working with him in maintaining the financial health of our diocese,” she said.

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