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Father James L. McCune named senior priest

By Father Robert M. O’Grady
Posted: 12/18/2009

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Father James L. McCune Pilot file photo

The priest who has been directing the office for Senior Priests since May 2, 2000 will himself enter the ranks of Senior Priests on Jan. 1, 2010. Father James L. McCune will remain as the Chaplain for Senior Priests and will also remain in residence at Regina Cleri where he has lived since May 2000.

Born in New York City on Oct. 1, 1932, he is the only child of the late Herman and Stella (Sweeney) McCune. His parents were both Rhode Island natives and the small but close family moved to Boston while James was still young. He was graduated from St. Thomas Aquinas School, Jamaica Plain and Boston College High School and entered the archdiocesan seminaries at Cardinal O’Connell, Jamaica Plain, and continued at St. Clement Hall Brighton and then at the theology department at St. John’s, also in Brighton.

Archbishop Richard Cushing ordained him at Holy Cross Cathedral on Feb. 3, 1958. He had two assignments as an assistant; immediately following ordination at St. Paul, Wellesley (1958-1965) and then back to very familiar territory at Blessed Sacrament, Jamaica Plain (1965-1973).

Shortly after he was named a cardinal by Pope Paul VI, Humberto Sousa Medeiros plucked Father McCune from parish life and on April 10, 1973 named him secretary and master of ceremonies, a position he held for almost ten years, until February 1983 when the cardinal named him pastor of St. John the Evangelist, Canton.

During his years as secretary to the cardinal, he became a familiar face appearing at archdiocesan ceremonies and events, perhaps no more widely publicized an event was his involvement with the papal visit of Pope John Paul II to Boston in October 1979. During this time many, especially priests, came to see the effect of Father McCune whose mild manner and measured and considered response to almost any question or dilemma was welcomed and readily received. His is that rare gift of being able to say “no” in such a way that you are as grateful for the “No” as you would have been for the “Yes.” And he would take to explain the reason for either!

In Canton he showed an amazing facility with people’s names and recalling family connections and relationships. He was recently spotted at a meeting at the Pastoral Center in Braintree by some Canton folks who were first of all, overjoyed to see their former pastor. He greeted each by name, asked about family members, by name; and even asked about folks in the particular neighborhood. And this after having left the parish in April 2000 when Cardinal Law named him Director of the Office of Senior Priests.

In that office he has been praised for his attention to the physical, spiritual emotional and psychological needs of the more than 250 senior priests in his “charge.” His patience and calm character mixed with a great wit and ability to get “one of the brothers” to cooperate where others could not, has won him high and deserved praise.

Always able to read the “sign of the times” he knew that it was time for him to hand on the duties to another. The Office for Senior Priests is being reshaped and also leaving that office is Father McCune’s long time assistant and “aide de camp,” Nancy Knowlton. The two have been an invaluable team in communicating among and between senior priests and various offices of the central offices of the archdiocese. Both will be greatly missed. Both are looking forward to taking on some new or expanded interest.

Father McCune will be able to focus more time on his golf game and on attendance and evaluation of the BC hockey team in tandem with Father Gerry Brennan; Nancy is looking forward to volunteering in hospitals or with elders.

Father McCune will remain in residence at Regina Cleri where he has been since his appointment to the Office for Senior Priests.