Religious women see bright future with new bishop

By Claudia Mathis
SUN staff writer

The Syracuse Diocese religious have been eagerly anticipating Bishop Robert Cunningham’s arrival.

Sister Patricia Burkard, OSF, general minister of the Sisters of St. Francis of the Neumann Communities, is certain from her past experience with Bishop Cunningham that his presence in the Syracuse Diocese will be a very positive one. “He truly values the role of women religious in the church,” said Sister Patricia.

“Each religious order has its own special charism. He understands the charisms and encourages the sisters to live them out. He is interested in and encourages the work that the sisters do,” she said. Sister Patricia said that when the bishop visited Blessed Mother Marianne Cope’s shrine last month, he thanked the sisters for their role in the church.

Sister Patricia worked with Bishop Cunningham when she served as diocesan superintendent for Catholic schools in the Ogdensburg Diocese. “He was very interested in Catholic education,” said Sister Patricia. “I remember that he worked in a collaborative way — that brings the best energy and blessings of people’s work.”

Sister Patricia was acquainted with Bishop Cunningham as a young woman because he was a good friend of her brother, Msgr. Paul Burkard, pastor at Our Lady of Victory Basilica and National Shrine in Lackawanna, N.Y. Msgr. Burkard also serves as president of Baker Victory Services, vice president of Our Lady of Victory Home of Charity and vice postulator for the canonization cause of Father Nelson Baker.

Msgr. Burkard remembers completing his homework with Bishop Cunningham after school when they attended high school. Later, they attended Christ the King Seminary in East Aurora, N.Y. They also worked for a few summers at St. Nicholas Church in Buffalo. “We enjoyed our time together,” said Msgr. Burkard. “He’s a very easy-going, friendly and caring person — that is what characterizes him.”

“I join many others who are very pleased with his appointment to the diocese,” said Sister Patricia. “He brings lots of experience and knowledge about the church in New York State because he’s served in all different parts of the state. He brings a great breadth of understanding of the church.”

“Hopefully, Bishop Cunningham will further the cause of Mother Marianne, like Bishop Moyniham did,” said Sister Catherine Hoefer, OSF, coordinator of St. Anthony Convent/Motherhouse and business manager at St. John the Evangelist Parish in Syracuse. Sister Catherine is also hopeful that the bishop will be supportive of her community’s work in the diocese. The sisters serve in such places as St. Joseph’s Hospital Health Center, Gingerbread House, Franciscan Northside Ministries, Bishop Ludden Junior/Senior High School, Bishop Grimes Junior/Senior High School and Christian Brothers Academy.
Sister Eloise Emm, OSF, is pleased with the appointment of Bishop Cunningham because she said that he seems like a “good man.”

“He’s going to meet with all religious in June,” said Sister Eloise. “I’ve heard that he‘s making a tremendous effort to meet the people in the diocese — that’s a good sign.” The Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet also serve in the Syracuse Diocese. Sister Katie Eiffe, CSJ, director of the diocesan Religious Education Office, is looking forward to working with Bishop Cunningham. “We want to work with him to further our mission,” said Sister Katie. “It’s bittersweet, though. It’s a new beginning, but we love Bishop Moynihan — he’s a wonderful man. We’re grateful for his work.”

Sister Maureen D’Onofrio, CSJ, pastoral associate at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Syracuse, said that she is excited about the bishop’s arrival. “As a Sister of St. Joseph, I know my community is happy to welcome Bishop Cunningham to our diocese,” said Sister Maureen. “Sister Eloise Emm, who was our vicar for religious, is now retired. I’m looking forward to the future, when a vicar for religious will be appointed.”

The Franciscan Friars are also looking forward to seeing a renewal within the diocese. Father John Ruffo, OFM, Conv., rector at Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church in Syracuse, reacted very positively when he heard Bishop Cunningham had been appointed as bishop. “I’ve heard that the diocese will be lifted up,” Father Ruffo said.” I think his coming will be a  good thing for the religious — I know he has a kind spot in his heart for them. I think it will be a good relationship.”

“I was delighted to hear about it,” concurred Friar Philip Kelly, OFM, Conv. “I believe the impact will bring a new spark and energy to the diocese — I look forward to his coming. I’ll be present at his installation. I’ve presented mission talks at a number of parishes in the Ogdensburg Diocese and I am impressed with the high regard that the pastors had for him.”

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