Sister Eileen Mary Cunningham
“Love is always patient and kind … .” (1 Corinthians 13:4)
“Indeed, this is how Sister Eileen Mary wished to live her life — as a woman of kindness and graciousness, as one who loved and cared for others with a tenderness and a healing presence, as a Sister of Providence, as a woman of Providence,” said Sister Jenny Howard in her commentary for Sister Eileen Mary Cunningham, who died May 1.
Born July 5, 1916, in Chelsea, Mass., to Joseph and Mary (Golden) Cunningham, Mary Isabel Cunningham was one of five children. She attended St. Rose grade and high schools in Chelsea. Upon her graduation she attended Chelsea Memorial Hospital School of Nursing, graduating as a registered nurse in 1938. One year later, she entered the Congregation.
“When she arrived, she was told she would not be nursing until after her novitiate. However, the very next day, she began working as a nurse in our Infirmary,” said Sister Jenny.
Sister Eileen Mary professed first and perpetual vows Aug. 15, 1941, and Jan. 23, 1947, respectively.
After ministering in the Infirmary, Sister Eileen Mary worked for short stints at Lady Isle, Portsmouth, N.H., and Immaculata Seminary, Washington, D.C. She also ministered and studied at St. Vincent Hospital, St. Louis, Mo. Later she returned to the Infirmary where she served in several capacities including nurse, head nurse and supervisor.
“Being a nurse in the Infirmary was never limited to one shift! In those days, it was an around the clock, seven days a week, year-in and year-out ministry. As many of you may remember, the nurses would pull out a cot at night and sleep directly under the call buzzer in order to be available at any time,” said Sister Jenny.
For four years in the early 1970s, Sister Eileen Mary ministered as the school nurse at Immaculata, Washington, D.C., and the Congregation supervisor of health.
“The years 1975 to 1980 found her in a new ministry, serving in provincial administration in the St. Raphael Province, Fall River, Mass. As many of you may recall, these years following the Second Vatican Council were exciting and yet challenging times within religious congregations and within the broader Church. Sisters have spoken of Sister Eileen Mary’s sensitivity, concern and attentiveness to others as some of the significant gifts she brought to provincial leadership during that time,” continued Sister Jenny.
Before retiring in 1993, Sister Eileen Mary ministered as the director of health care, nurse or administrator at St. Joseph Convent, Quincy, Mass., and as the director of nursing at Providence Retirement Home, New Albany, Ind.
“Sister Eileen Mary’s most recent ministry was prayer — prayer specifically for the Health Care staff members at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. To you who provided care for her, she not only prayed for you, but she also loved to tease you and connect with you as only another nurse could do,” said Sister Jenny.
“We know by our faith, and we know by the gift of having Sister Eileen Mary’s life touch each of our lives that love does not come to an end and that there are three things that last — faith, hope and love, and the greatest of these is love,” said Sister Jenny.
The Mass of Christian Burial for Sister Eileen Mary was celebrated May 6 with the Rev. Daniel Hopcus presiding. She was preceded in death by all her siblings.
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