Church full for funeral of Bishop John Cunneen

19 November 2010


Click here to see photos of Bishop John's funeral.

People from around New Zealand gathered at St Mary’s Pro Cathedral today to pay their respects to Bishop John, where he lay in state on Monday and Tuesday of this week, and vigil requiem masses were held on both evenings.

Today’s requiem Mass was celebrated by Bishop Barry Jones. Concelebrants included Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Charles Balvo, and members of the New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference.

The homily was delivered by Emeritus Bishop Basil Meeking, who said Bishop Cunneen was known as a man of “unwavering pastoral charity”.

“The holy gifts he received in ordination flourished and bore fruit abundantly in his life not least because he had also notable natural gifts of temperament and character which brought him close to people... His clear, wholehearted commitment to social justice, to the relief of human need, to human development was not in the abstract; he simply got on with the job when he saw a person in need”.

Bishop Meeking spoke of Bishop Cunneen’s active involvement with Maori, the Samoan communities in Christchurch, young people and prisoners. He said people found in the bishop a friend and someone who understood, listened and cared for them.

“All of that was highly personal and it gave him a certain image, yet he always remained solidly based in a parish,” said Bishop Meeking.

“He was essentially a hardworking parish priest and he gave of his best in every parish where he served... When he became Bishop of Christchurch his impulse was to act as parish priest of the whole diocese and his abundant pastoral charity was lavished on people more widely than ever,” he said.

He described Bishop Cunneen’s full part in the work of the New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference, presiding over the Conference’s ecumenical commission for a number of years, and co-moderating the dialogue with the Anglican Church of New Zealand.

Former Anglican Bishop of Christchurch, David Coles, spoke of Bishop Cunneen’s significant contribution to relationships between different faith groups and read a message from Anglican Archbishop, David Moxon, who is currently in Rome.

Bishop Meeking said Bishop Cunneen accepted “with fortitude and great faith” the news that cancer was to end his life.

“He had lived with trust in God’s plan for his life and he approached the end of his days in the same spirit,” he said.

“Our memory of him will be of the great pastoral charity which made his life beautiful for God, a blessing for the Church and a sign of hope for us who remain”.

Following the funeral, Bishop Cunneen was laid to rest in a private ceremony in the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament.

Download Bishop Basil's homily
Dignitas Humana - June 2008.pdf Bishop Basil Meeking homily.pdf


Bishop John speaking to a group of children at a school

The Diocese is in mourning at the death of Bishop John Cunneen, who passed away peacefully at Nazareth House on Tuesday 9th November 2010, aged 78.  Bishop John has been in Nazareth House for some months.

Bishop Barry said ill health never altered Bishop John's enthusiasm or faith  “I remember his cheerfulness, patience and good humour when he was struck down suddenly by a stroke in 2003,” said Bishop Barry. “His faith and trust in God never wavered and he recovered well for a time until his health declined in recent years”.

Bishop John was known for his endearing and gracious personality.  In recent years he has been in retirement at St John Fisher House.

Click here to view photos of Bishop John.

Bishop John was born in Christchurch on 5 May 1932. He was educated at St Joseph’s Primary School in Ashburton and St Bede’s College in Christchurch. For his priesthood training he attended Holy Name Seminary in Riccarton (1947-1950); Holy Cross Seminary in Mosgiel (1951-1952) and All Hallows College in Dublin (1952-1956).

He was ordained a priest by Bishop Edward Joyce in Ashburton on 8 July 1956. He served as a priest at a number of parishes including the Chatham Islands, Timaru North, Rangiora, Oxford, Dallington, the Cathedral, Addington, Bishopdale and Burnside. He was also highly involved with Christchurch’s Samoan Community.

His Episcopal Ordination took place on 30 November 1992 and appointed eighth Bishop of Christchurch on 1st February 1996. In July 2003 towards the end of his Episcopate, Bishop John suffered his stroke and spent three months in hospital.  He retired as Bishop on 5th May 2007.

When he was first ordained bishop he was Auxiliary Bishop of Christchurch (under Bishop Basil Meeking) and Titular Bishop of Annaghdown. He was a participant at the Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for the Churches in North, Central and South America. In 1995 he was appointed by Pope John Paul II to the Pontifical Council “Cor Unum” – the agency of the Holy See responsible for the Church’s charitable activities.


Bishop John with the Carmelite Sisters during the St Therese celebrations

New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference President, Archbishop John Dew, spoke of Bishop John's long involvement in ecumenism.  “He was Conference Deputy for ecumenism for more than a decade, and led the New Zealand Catholic Church’s involvement in the Anglican-Catholic Bilateral Dialogue,” he said.  “Bishop Cunneen was a very pastoral man and brought that into his work in ecumenism at the national level”.

In 2006 Bishop John celebrated his Golden Jubilee of priesthood, and in 2007 a Thanksgiving Mass was held for him. He delivered a homily at the Mass, in which he described his calling to the priesthood as a Form 3 boarder at St Bede’s College.

“Sixty one years ago... I was in this beautiful Cathedral for a rally of the Holy Name Society. Bishop Lyons...announced that the four New Zealand bishops had purchased a property in Riccarton Road. They invited the Australian Jesuits to staff there a minor seminary, a national secondary school for possible prospective priests. I believe that occasion was important for me hearing the call of the Good Shepherd to consider that the Lord might want me however unworthily to come a priest”.

At the same Mass, Bishop Barry gave examples of Bishop John's outstanding contribution to priesthood, and described how so many people had found in him a “kind listener” and a “ready helper”.  “I think of the times I rang your home not ever knowing who would answer the telephone because of the remarkable hospitality which has always marked your life”, he said to Bishop John.

He went on to say, “Think too of the many hours you have sat at meetings, caring for the affairs of the Diocese, pastoral and spiritual affairs, finances, property, maintenance, legal matters, and the demands of education. I think it’s exactly true to say that only God could know how many hours you have given in his service as a bishop”.

He finished by thanking Bishop John for his “courageous witness” since his health began to deteriorate.  “With great determination and constancy, you have continued to grace gatherings of all kinds with your presence, your wisdom, your words of faith, even though the exertions involved in getting to functions, alighting from vehicles, climbing steps and stairs, and walking from one place to another, were considerable,” he said.  He described an occasion where he watched Bishop John signing documents with his other hand because he could no longer use his writing hand, and the great effort that had gone into the longhand draft of the night’s homily. “That effort is a moving example of how simply you bear witness to the joy and faith that has made you an indomitable shepherd of the Lord’s flock”. 

Click here to see Bishop Barry's full text at the Thanksgiving Mass.

Bishop Barry remembers Bishop John as a “courteous and amiable soul, who always found good in persons,” and who was “most compassionate and gentle and had a great way of reaching out to persons for whom life had become difficult or who had made bad decisions”.  “I remember well travelling with him to the West Coast once, and we stopped for refreshments at Arthurs Pass. While he was sitting at his table drinking coffee a long queue formed of persons wanting to talk to him. Wherever he went, people would call out to him”.

His appointments included:
1956:        Assistant priest, Timaru North
1956:        Temporary appointment as Chaplain to Mount Magdala
1957-58:   Dallington
1957:        Chancellor
1959-62:    Assistant, Cathedral
1962:         Administrator, Holy Cross Chapel, ChCh
1963:         Parish Priest, Chatham Islands
1964:         Administrator, Cathedral
1965:         Ordinary Confessor to Sisters of Mercy at Villa Maria
1973:         Parish Priest, Rangiora
1974:         Diocesan Consultor
1983:         Co-pastor, Addington
1984:         Parish Priest, Bishopdale
1987:         Parish Priest, Burnside
1990:         Bishop's Pastoral Assistant (for Bishop Basil Meeking)
October 1992:   Auxiliary Bishop of Christchurch, titular Church of Annaghdown
30 November 1992:   Episcopal Ordination as Titular Bishop of Annaghdown & Auxiliary Bishop of the Diocese of Christchurch
23 February 1995:   Pontifical Council “Cor Unum” – 5 yr appt.
1 Febraury 1996:   Appointed Bishop of Christchurch
19 March 1996:   Installed as Eighth Bishop of the Diocese of Christchurch
Eternal rest grant unto him o Lord and let perpetual light shine upon him
May he rest in peace. Amen.