Death of Archbishop Joseph Cunnane DD, retired Archbishop of Tuam

08 Mar 2001

Death of Archbishop Joseph Cunnane DD, retired Archbishop of Tuam

8 March 2001

The Archbishop of Tuam, Most Rev. Michael Neary, deeply regrets to announce the death of the Most Rev. Joseph Cunnane, D.D., retired Archbishop of Tuam. Archbishop Cunnane, who had been unwell for several years, died at the Bon Secours Hospital in Tuam this morning.

Born in the parish of Knock on 5th October, 1913, Archbishop Cunnane was ordained on 18th June 1939 after brilliant scholastic careers at St Jarlath’s College, Tuam, and St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth. Post-Graduate studies at the Dunboyne Institute, Maynooth, led to a Doctorate of Divinity in 1941. He was then appointed as Professor of Irish at St Jarlath’s College, Tuam, in which capacity he served from 1941 to 1958. Pastoral ministry in Balla, Co Mayo, followed until his appointment as curate in Clifden in 1967. He was to work in Clifden for less than 2 years. On 21 January 1969 the Holy See appointed him Archbishop of Tuam. He was ordained to the Episcopate on St Patrick’s Day, 17 March 1969.

From his appointment in Balla in 1958, Archbishop Cunnane immersed himself in the pastoral life of the two parishes in which he ministered. He also pioneered pre-marriage courses which were held in Castlebar and was greatly in demand as a retreat-master throughout the country. Developing interests which had been taking shape prior to his leaving St Jarlath’s College, he was among the first contributors to the Liturgical Congress in Glenstal that began in 1954. Over the succeeding years, the Congress was to play a key role in preparing the Irish Church for the liturgical changes which eventually came in the wake of the Second Vatican Council. During the same years, Archbishop Cunnane made valuable contributions to the Maynooth Union Summer School and to the Christus Rex Congress. He also wrote many articles for theological reviews such as Furrow and Doctrine and Life. Throughout his life he was to retain a great love of the Irish language and of the Gaeltacht and its people.

As the late Professor J. G. McGarry of Maynooth described him on his accession to the Episcopate, Archbishop Cunnane was “strikingly a man from the country”. He never forgot his rural origins and was an enthusiastic supporter of Macra na Tuaithe and of the setting up of local marts and group water schemes. The problems and concerns of farmers and country people in general were close to his heart.

As Archbishop, he was appointed Chairman of the Episcopal Commissions for Liturgy, Emigrants and the Laity. He was to preside over the introduction and the implementation of the new rites in practically all of the Sacraments and he took great trouble to ensure that all of the revised texts would be available in the Irish language. He was deeply concerned to promote a better understanding of the Faith among all Church members and strongly supported the development of Adult Religious Education and Catechetics, supporting many initiatives undertaken by priests and people in these areas. He committed many young priests to Post Graduate Studies in the areas of Scripture, Theology, Catechetics, Liturgy and Adult Education. He also initiated the Council of Priests, at first called the “Diocesan Senate”, and encouraged fraternity and collaboration among priests from neighbouring parishes.

A deeply spiritual man, Archbishop Cunnane had a great devotion to the Shrine of Our Lady at Knock. Concern for the thousands of pilgrims coming to Knock during the 1970’s prompted the Archbishop to build a new church which would shelter the worshippers from the vagaries of the weather. In this he was supported by the enthusiasm and energy of Mgr James Horan, R.I.P. On August 15 1976 the new church was blessed by the Late Cardinal Conway. Three years later on September 20 1979 the Archbishop and Mgr Horan had the privilege of welcoming Pope John Paul to Knock and of hearing him declare the new church a Basilica.

Archbishop Cunnane retired in 1987. He resided at Knock until 1993, when declining health obliged him to move to the Bons Secours hospital in Tuam. He was a devout and gifted servant of Jesus Christ. May his soul and all the souls of the faithful departed through the mercy of God rest in peace. Amen.

Funeral Arrangements to be Announced Later.


Further information:
Fr Martin Clarke 087 220 8044
Ms Brenda Drumm 087 233 7797