Saint Martin’s monk Father Kieran Cunningham, O.S.B., dies

Aug 22, 2005

Lacey – Father Kieran Cunningham, Order of St. Benedict, a priest and former teacher at Saint Martin’s High School, died at Providence Mother Joseph Care Center Aug. 21, 2005, of multiple health problems. He was 79.

Members of the Saint Martin’s University community join Saint Martin’s Abbey, where Father Kieran had been a member since 1956, in honoring his life.

A vigil service will be at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 24, at Saint Martin’s Abbey Church, 5300 Pacific Ave., Lacey. Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated for him at 10:30 a.m. Thursday, Aug. 25. Burial will follow at Saint Martin’s Abbey Cemetery.

Father Kieran was born Patrick Cunningham on Sept. 4, 1925, in Rothesay, Scotland, to Irish parents, Patrick and Catherine O’Donnell Cunningham. He attended elementary school in Ireland before immigrating to the United States in 1947.

After he arrived in the United States, he worked as a manual laborer at the Tacoma Smelter until 1950, when he enrolled in Saint Martin’s High School as a non-traditional student. He graduated in 1953.

Fellow abbey member Brother Boniface V. Lazzari, O.S.B., described Father Kieran as “deeply spiritual and sometimes evidencing a shy side.” As a high school student, his empathy for a fellow non-traditional-aged student encouraged the other young man to persevere and finish high school. The student later went on to finish college and then graduate school, grateful for the kind “push” he received from the young man who would become Father Kieran, he said.

In 1953, Father Kieran also became a naturalized citizen of the United States. He was invested as a novice at Saint Martin’s Abbey in 1956. Following his graduation from Saint Martin’s College in 1958, he pursued theological studies at Oregon’s Mount Angel Seminary. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1962 by Seattle Archbishop Thomas A. Connley and celebrated his first mass at St. Ann Parish in Tacoma.

Father Kieran was a graduate student first at Seattle University and then at Chicago’s St. Xavier University, where he was awarded a master of arts degree in theology in 1971.

He taught Saint Martin’s High School students classes in geography, Washington history and religion. He also served as dormitory prefect from 1962 to 1970 and as vice principal from 1971 until the school’s closure in 1974.

His monastic assignments included service as a subprior and monastery guestmaster.

As a priest, Father Kieran occasionally assisted at Holy Cross Parish in Tacoma and Christ the King Parish in Seattle. From 1974 to 1978, he was assistant pastor at Lacey’s Sacred Heart Parish. In 1978, he was appointed pastor of Saint Edward Parish in Shelton, and under his leadership, Saint Edward Parish Hall was constructed. From 1987 through his retirement in 2003, he was chaplain at Olympia’s St. Peter Hospital.

“His interests were people – he was very pastoral-minded,” said Abbot Neal Roth, O.S.B., of Saint Martin’s Abbey. “He was very religious in his approach to life, interested in religious things and clearly, a very spiritual person.”

Abbot Neal said while Father Kieran didn’t have hobbies, he was very proud of his Irish heritage and had a deep love for his extended family, who lived in Seattle, Tacoma and Lacey. He enjoyed taking short trips to visit them, said Abbot Neal.

Deanna Partlow
Media relations coordinator