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Fathers Cunney, Fagan and O’Rourke named senior priests


Father James O’Rourke Pilot file photo

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Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley, OFM Cap., has announced that he has granted senior priest/retirement status to three priests of the archdiocese. The combined years of service of Fathers Henry Cunney, Joseph Fagan and James O’Rourke reaches almost a century and a half.

Father Henry Cunney

Raised in Salem, the scion of a well-known Salem family, Father Cunney was born on June 4, 1934. Following his theological training at St. John Seminary, he was ordained to the priesthood at Holy Cross Cathedral on Feb. 2, 1959 by Richard Cardinal Cushing.

During the next 49 years, his priestly ministry was exercised in parishes and on high school and college campuses literally across the archdiocese.

Between 1959 and 1964 he was an assistant at three parishes: St. Peter, Gloucester; St. Andrew the Apostle, Forest Hills; and Blessed Sacrament, Walpole.

His first foray into campus ministry was his three-year assignment as chaplain at Nazareth Academy in Wakefield, where he served for three years.

In 1967 he returned to parish ministry with assignments, again as an assistant, at St. Agatha, Milton and St. Joseph, Wakefield.

Returning closer to home, he was named chaplain at Bishop Fenwick High School in Peabody in 1970, and in 1973 he was named assistant at St. Agnes, Arlington. In 1976 he was named assistant at St. Mary of the Hills Parish, Milton which would be the single longest assignment of his priestly ministry remaining there until June 1986.

He served again briefly in campus ministry, though this time at the college level when he served as chaplain at Regis College, Weston.

He returned to parish ministry again in 1987 when he was named parochial vicar at Sacred Heart Parish, Roslindale.

In December 1991, Cardinal Bernard Law named him pastor of Nativity Parish in Merrimac, and just before the end of his term there he was named pastor at St. Thomas Aquinas Parish, Nahant.

He retired from the more administrative duties of pastor when he was named parochial vicar at St. Richard of Chichester Parish, Danvers in November 2001.

Father Cunney now lives at his own residence with his retirement on April 1, 2008.

Among his great priestly qualities is his trademark smile. The shock of white hair and the obviously fair Irish face seem the perfect frame for the smile which he seems to wear continually.

One of his great hobbies has been travel, both personal and professional. He loves going places, seeing new sights and meeting people. In several assignments he was the “tour organizer and guide” for parish trips domestic and international. May God bless Father Cunney with health so that he continues to serve God’s people -- and perhaps even to travel more.

Father Joseph Fagan

A Boston native and son of South Boston, Father Joseph Fagan was born Dec. 3, 1940. After attending local schools he entered archdiocesan seminaries, with Richard Cardinal Cushing ordaining him to the priesthood at Holy Cross Cathedral on June 7, 1967.

His first assignment was to the then fledging parish of St. Richard, Danvers -- the very same from which Father Cunney retired on April 1 as parochial vicar. At the time of his assignment the parish, founded in 1963, was led by Msgr. John Cusack -- who was busy building the parish, both people and plant.

After three years the popular young priest was allowed to enter the Missionary Society of St. James the Apostle for service in South America, desperately in need of priests. He served for two years, returning to Whitman, where he was named assistant at Holy Ghost Parish. In October 1979, Cardinal Medeiros named him moderator of the team ministry assigned to St. John Chrysostom in West Roxbury.

After the first term of the team ministry expired in 1985, Father Fagan was named parochial vicar at Sacred Heart, Quincy. Five years later he was named to a similar post, serving briefly at St. Lucy in Methuen.

Father Fagan, who had always been a vigorous and active man, suffered some health problems and his mobility became more and more limited. Although it was much more difficult for him to move about, neither his zest for people and life, nor his priestly zeal suffered noticeable limitations. Actually, he seemed to deflect any talk of his own health -- always inquiring about others first.

Cardinal Law, seizing an opportunity, named him as a spiritual director at Blessed John XXIII National Seminary in Weston on Nov. 16, 1998. Thus, almost a full decade of seminary classes has been the beneficiary of Father Fagan’s priestly ministry, example and enthusiasm.

While at Blessed John he made an extra effort to assist in parishes and made a weekly trek for some time to St. Ann Parish, Peabody, to assist on weekends.

With his May 10 retirement, Father Fagan will move to Regina Cleri where his self-effacing humor and his winning ways will surely be of great benefit to his brother priests.

Father James O’Rourke

Born in 1933 in Melrose, and a son of St. Joseph Parish, Wakefield, Father James O’Rourke has “connections” to the two other retirees: Father Cunney was an assistant at his home parish, while Father O’Rourke was a member of the St. James Society like Father Fagan.

Father O’Rourke is one of the golden jubilarians of this bicentennial year of the archdiocese. He was ordained by Archbishop Richard Cushing on Feb. 3, 1958 at Holy Cross Cathedral, making him one of the “sesquicentennial newly ordained”!

Following his ordination he was named as an assistant at St. Peter Parish, Lowell. After just three years he took up Cardinal Cushing’s call for service in the then fledgling Missionary Society of St. James the Apostle. For the next 11 years he served with the Society in South America.

In 1972 he was named an assistant at St. Charles Borromeo Parish, Woburn and the following year found him serving as associate at Jamaica Plain’s Blessed Sacrament Parish, given special responsibility for the growing Spanish-speaking population.

In 1977 he was named pastor at the parish and served for three years until he returned in 1980 to the St. James Society. He remained with the Society for eight more years, returning to parish life in the archdiocese in 1988 as a parochial vicar at St. Columbkille Parish, Brighton. For the past 20 years he has been the cornerstone, as it were, of the parish’s service to the steadily growing Hispanic population in the once solidly Irish and Irish-American section of the city.

Father O’Rourke has been experiencing some health problems recently, but he reaches the ‘‘magic number’’ -- 75 -- this year and so Cardinal O’Malley granted his request for senior priest retirement status effective April 1.

In reading the brief biographies of these three priests, you will notice the diversity of backgrounds and interests, the different “styles” and personalities of each, and yet note also how often the paths of priests of the archdiocese may cross one another, intertwine with one another and affect one another. Sometimes priests themselves may not see connections that only “fate” -- such as retirement dates -- reveals! A truth about our priests, oft stated by Cardinal O’Malley, is perhaps well demonstrated this week: “we’re all brothers, but we’re not twins.”

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