Born: 30 March 1924, Dublin
Entered: 07 September 1942, St Mary’s, Emo, County Laois, Ireland
Ordained: 31 July 1957, Milltown Park, Dublin
Final Vows: 02 February 1960, Wah Yan College, Kowloon, Hong Kong
Died: 15 June 1972, Vietnam
In September 1970, Father Cunningham arrived in Singapore from Hong Kong to be an assistant in the parish, replacing Father Keane who was to move to the then newly proposed Catholic Junior College. His main work involved teaching religion to foreign students. Pastoral work and in particular, catechetical work, was his forte. Kindly and benevolent, he had a soft spot for the young. Between him and all children, regardless of age, gender or nationality, appreciation and affection were mutual.
Father Cunningham taught catechism in a number of educational institutions — two convent schools, the Swiss school, the Australian Army School and the International School — and was much beloved by the children there. Not only did he teach them, he also established an extraordinary rapport with them by organising out-of-class activities. He organised a weekly evening session in Kingsmead Hall for the “tough” teenagers of the American School and the International School. They attended in ever increasing numbers: they brought their friends : some of them brought their parents. They became enthusiastic about their religion, possibly for the first time in years
When we think of Father Cunningham, we think of mechanical things and movement. We think of cars and aeroplanes, of launches and ships and of a man who was ever on the move. We think of a man ready at a moment’s notice to address any audience on any topic whatever and in any part of the world. He would then return home and either delight or annoy his community with endless chatter about the people he had met and the things he had done.
And then came the fatal air disaster of 15 June 1972. His life was tragically cut short at the age of 48 when the plane he was in blew up over South Vietnam. An enquiry into the cause of the crash established that it was caused by a bomb placed on the plane in Bangkok and which exploded over Vietnam. The bomb was planted by a Thai army officer who, in the hope of gaining from his wife’s life insurance, had plotted to kill her while she was on board that flight. Father Cunningham’s body was among the few still intact and recognisable which were recovered from the wreck. His body was flown to Dublin for burial.
Ironically, while in Wah Yan Kowloon, he founded the Aviation Club on 29 Oct 1960, to maintain the students’ interest and possibly to help further a career if desired. Also in light of that, the Auto Club was started on 12 March 1962.
He also became the RAF Chaplain in November 1966, taking charge of about 60 Catholic families of the Royal Air Force stationed at Kai Tak.
In addition he founded the Air Scout Troop in the summer of 1967.
He was the speech instructor of cabin crew for Cathay Pacific Airlines too.
Also in 1969-70, using his connections, he helped Mr Warren Geddes put together the HK Air Cadets Corp, culminating in its establishment in 1971.
Book: 50 years of the parish of the Church of St Ignatius, 2012