Living the Faith: Bob and Liz Cunningham

WESTFORD -- Fourteen years ago, when Bob and Liz Cunningham first moved to Westford, they found themselves in a new town without family or friends. With one small child, and another on the way, they looked to their parish, St. Catherine of Alexandria, to help them become connected to the community.

The couple’s first step into involvement in the parish came in response to a simple invitation from their pastor. One Sunday, almost immediately after they moved in, he asked for volunteers to teach religious education. Liz accepted the challenge and she still teaches religious education today, as does her husband. They both also attend eucharistic adoration every first Friday and are both involved in the Cursillo movement in their parish.

“St. Catherine’s is a big part of our lives on purpose,” said Bob.

Liz, as a stay-at-home mother of three, participates in a weekly women’s book club.

She also serves on the faith formation council, which “looks at faith formation, not just for religious education, but for the whole parish.” As a result, the parish uses several different types of religious education programs, she said, including traditional weekly classes, mini-courses for children and adults, home study programs, and Generations of Faith -- a program in which parishioners of all ages gather once a month to participate in religious education.

“There’s something for everyone to do, which is great,” she said.

In addition to teaching religious education, Bob, a senior vice-president for Institutional Advancement for Northeastern University, sings in the parish choir, and is involved in prison ministry, particularly for the nearby state prison in Concord.

He also serves on the parish’s youth ministry board, which he described as an “ad hoc group” that aims to get the youth involved in practicing their faith.

“One of the things important to me is making sure we connect the parish to the broader community,” said Bob. “I don’t think there’s any better way to experience faith than through service.”

This conviction led him to take a group of 14 youth -- including two of his three children -- and 6 parents to Gulfport, Miss. this past summer on a pilgrimage led by the archdiocese’s Office for Youth Ministry. Together with several other parishes, the group went to “clean up debris, do a little drywall construction and painting,” he said.

“That was a wonderful example of our archdiocese living the service aspect of our faith,” he said.

Bob was also impressed with the eagerness in which the young people helped. “There was no hesitation whatsoever,” he said. “From the time we got on the plane to the time we got off the plane, there was not one complaint.”

The experience was so positive the group is hoping to return to Gulfport to continue helping the area rebuild.

“That was a wonderful way to teach and pass the faith on to the youth,” he said.

Bob and Liz Cunningham both grew up on Long Island, N.Y. They married 20 years ago, when they were both 26, and shortly thereafter moved to Massachusetts, first living in Belmont and then settling in Westford.

Although Westford is very different from the towns they grew up in -- “where there’s a church and a Catholic school on every corner,” as Liz described them -- St. Catherine of Alexandria Parish is definitely home to them.

“Father Peter [Quinn, pastor] is wonderful. He always tells us, ‘This is your parish,’ which I think helps get the people excited about their faith,” said Liz.