Sister Mary Arthur Cunneen, MM

Born: June 1, 1908
Entered: June 10, 1935
Died: November 21, 1985

We are gathered here today in this chapel with Fathers Mike Pierce and Francis Winslow of Maryknoll to share in the Resurrection Liturgy of Sister Mary Arthur Cunneen. A love for our Blessed Mother was a constant source of strength and consolation for Sister Arthur, and Mary’s love did not fail her in this last struggle with illness. Sister died in our Nursing Home at 9:45 p.m. on November 21st, the Feast of the Presentation.

Helen Teresa Cunneen was born in Framingharn, Massachusetts on June 1st, 1908, one of the six children of Patrick and Helen Reddy Cunneen. She attended Natik High School, but left school early to begin work at a series of jobs until she entered Maryknoll in 1935. She wrote of her desire for Maryknoll: “Father Garrahan created a deep interest in all his pupils for Maryknoll and the fields afar. After my brother, Father Arthur Cunneen, came to Maryknoll it seemed closer to me. However not until after he had been ordained and assigned to China did I feel that I, too, would like to be a missioner.”

At her reception in January, 1936, Helen received the name: Sister Mary Arthur, which she requested in honor of her priest-brother. Following her Profession of Vows in 1938, Sister Mary Arthur worked in very many roles and offices here at the Center, at Monrovia and at Valley Park. She was quick and intelligent – and impatient with those who did not share her quickness; she was honest to a fault and offended by those who did not share her frankness; she loved wholeheartedly those who loved her, and generously served the needs of the Congregation in many varied ways.

In 1979 Sister Mary Arthur became the Director of a Government-funded Program for alcoholics among the Navajo Indians. She was training Indians to set up counselling programs and to select their own candidates for rehabilitation. She was much loved by the Navajos and welcomed into their homes and lives and hearts.

For most of this last year and a half, Sister Mary Arthur had been a resident at Emmaus House in New Jersey, a Center administered by her friends and counsellors, Sister Pat Walsh and Sister Doris Wiswell. In this warm and supportive environment, Sister Mary Arthur achieved the self-confidence that enabled her to move in peace and grace through the physical pain of her last illness with her characteristic wry humor and a hard-won joy of heart. One Sister wrote of Sister Arthur as she approached vows many years ago: “Sister Arthur can become a fine Sister; she will never be mediocre” – and that insight proved true to the end.

Sister Mary Arthur had shared with some of the Sisters a book that meant very much to her and I close these brief reflections with a citation from this book. God is speaking to a person near death, a person who is aware as we all are, and as Sister Arthur was, of the tenuousness and fragility of our very humanity and this person is filled with fear as the moment of death approaches. And God says to her:

“Wipe away your tears. Reach out, grasp my hand, and stand straight. Let me cut the grave cloths that have bound you. This day you have been notified. You are the greatest miracle in the world.”  (The Greatest Miracle in the World by Og Mandino, p. 104)