Father James P. Courneen, MM

Born: February 18, 1919
Ordained: June 10, 1945
Died: August 4, 1985

On Sunday, August 4th, Fr. Jim Courneen and Dr. James Bramham were landing in a plane in Camiri, Bolivia. About 100 meters from the beginning of the runway the plane crashed – reason unknown. The plane was destroyed and both men were killed instantly in the crash.

Father Jim was born in Rochester, New York on February 18, 1919. He entered Maryknoll in September, 1940 and was ordained on June 10, 1945. He celebrated his First Mass with his brother, Father Francis, S.J. on June 24, 1945.

While he was a third-year student at Fordham studying Business Administration, he applied to Maryknoll. He wrote: “I happened to be browsing among the magazine shelves of the Fordham Library one day near the end of my junior year, when I came upon The Field Afar. A sudden curiosity struck me and, after reading through the magazine I sent for a book called The Maryknoll Movement. I finished the book then and there. That bit of curiosity was, I believe, God’s way of awakening in me a call to His eternal priesthood through the foreign mission work of Maryknoll.”

Upon his graduation from Fordham he applied and was accepted into Maryknoll. His first ten years were spent on promotion work in New York, St. Louis and Houston. He enjoyed his work on promotion and did well. He was described by one of his superiors as being “full of life. He talks the longest, most involved sentences of anyone I have ever met, a sort of ‘stream of consciousness’ talker. I don’t think he could possibly utter the words ‘yes’ or ‘no’, or give a simple direct answer to a question. As Director he keeps his enthusiasm at a high level. As for a possible mission assignment, he wishes to go on record as being always ready.” This was brought out in a letter he wrote to Fr. General on one occasion: “May I plant this idea in your mind? If the situation warrants it in Bolivia, or anywhere, why not call upon me to fill a gap until the new men going down are out of language school? Seriously, this is not a dodge from promotion work. I have an assignment and a job to do, and I judge it may have to run its cycle of years. But I’m in top shape and the place here is now organized to a great extent. I could easily fill in somewhere for the emergency, any job. I can get the round-trip fare at the drop of a hat. More than that, too. Just an idea, but not a monkey wrench. I’m always ready to move in a moment’s notice.”

Jim used his many talents in the Bolivia Mission. He went the first time in 1955. He returned to promotion in 1961 and then back to Bolivia in 1966 until the present time. Jim had many interests… he was known to plan his activities well and to work tirelessly to build up the pilgrimage features of the Shrine of Cotoca in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. He enjoyed music, singing and playing the piano. He enjoyed being with people. He had vision and worked with all who were interested in building God’s Kingdom. He was called upon to preach retreats as well as being Master of Ceremonies at some joyous occasion.

He was at Maryknoll, N.Y. in June of this year celebrating with his classmates and relatives his 40th Anniversary as a Maryknoller. He was a man appreciative of God’s blessings throughout all his life. On his Ordination Day he wrote the following words to the Superior General: “Doubtless all coherence will be lacking in these few words but I want to express in some manner all my sincere appreciation for what you and the Society have done for me – for today I am already a Priest. I wish to thank you for ordaining me to that most exalted office today – the completion in success of a short but entirely happy and, I’m confident, worthwhile five years at Maryknoll. Then, too, I’m appreciative of your Ordination present which you inscribed to me. Finally, Father General, I owe everything to Maryknoll, that is, to God through Mary, and all I desire to do is carry out your trust in me from henceforth and on. Your devoted son in Christ”

Jim lived to help others, particularly the poor and needy. For this reason he developed over the years a rich variety of pastoral and social apostolates. He died carrying out such a mission – bringing help to others.

Come, you that are blessed by My Father! Come and possess the Kingdom which has been prepared for you ever since the creation of the world. I was hungry and you fed me; thirsty and you gave me to drink; I was a stranger and you received me… I tell you, whenever you did this for one of the least important of these, you did it for me.“(Mt. 25, 34 ff)

Funeral Service was held on August 7 in Santa Cruz. A Memorial Mass was celebrated the same day at Maryknoll, New York.