Tributes to Fr Kit Cunningham

Fr Kit Cunningham

Fr Kit Cunningham

Many tributes have been arriving to Fr Kit Cunningham, former Rector of St Etheldreda's in Ely Place, London, who died in Dublin on 12 December.  His funeral took place today at St Joseph's in Drumuncondra, Dublin. There is going to be a Memorial Mass for Fr Kit at St Etheldreda's on Wednesday 12th January at 7pm for 7.30pm.

Bishop John Arnold said:  “Fr Kit Cunningham was the Founding Father of the Westminster Record and, by his own kindness and determination, carried the preparation and publication of the Westminster Record for many years with few resources beyond his own skills. It became something of an institution in itself, offering a wide range of news from around the Diocese, recording the dedication and industry of priests, religious and laypeople and now remains a journal of the fast-changing Church in Westminster in the years that followed the Second Vatican Council. We remember with gratitude Fr Kit’s generosity and enthusiasm in his production of the diocesan newspaper.”

Writer Mary Kenny said:  “Fr Kit was a wonderful man, warm, generous, utterly genial and so kind to all of us who have been friends or parishioners over the years. He had a great sense of the extraordinary history of St Etheldreda’s and served it with such energy and elan.

"Behind the joviality – he had a merry sense of humour -  he was an accomplished evangelist and brought many people to the faith – or lapsed ones, back to the faith - with his optimistic credo. He was exceptionally kind to all our young people, who liked and trusted him and retain a great memory of a fine man and an outstanding priest. He was liberally ecumenical, while nevertheless remaining firmly rooted in the traditions of Catholicity. I saw Anglicans, Eastern Orthodox Christians, Buddhists,  members of the Jewish community and those of no faith warming to him. We all had great respect and affection for Fr Cunningham and he’ll remain in our thoughts and prayers.”

Annabel Smith, former Tablet writer said: "He was a lovely man, and what a real London character! We'll all miss him. May he rest in peace."

Family friend and parishioner, Juliette Doggett described Fr Kit as "a great man and a very dear friend." She said:  I have known Fr Kit for 35 years, since I was eight years old.  My family were first introduced to Fr Kit as Anglicans and he converted me, my mother and my brother.  He helped m me  get into LSU the convent school in Hampstead and I subsequently met my husband through school and forged lasting friendships including one with Fr Kit's great friend Fr Dermot who was chaplain at LSU during my time there.  He baptised all four of my children.

"That's the history bit.....

"Fr Kit and I spent a great deal of  time together after my mother, Jenny Floyd, died in 2006.  She was his housekeeper and friend and he was devastated.  We would spend hours chatting and I took over a lot of mum's work at Ely Place, sorting out bills, salaries and organising the domestic side of St Etheldreads.  He never really recovered from my mother's death.

"I remember when my twin sons were born ten months after my mother's death, I was in hospital and mum had always taken my elder girls to a panto at Christmas and he wanted to do this in memory of her so he took my girls, Maddie and Georgia and my nephew Ben to a panto at the Barbican.  After the panto he was planning to get 'his driver' to whizz up to the hospital to see me and my twins.  Unfortunately  he had an accident at the theatre when a man had an epileptic fit and fell on him.  It broke his shoulder and he never fully recovered.   We did have a little joke though when he rang me from his hospital bed and spoke to me in mine.   

"He was a very thoughtful and kind man.  I think we were the family he never had - warts and all!!!

"Fr Kit was a man  with integrity and dignity.  He had a huge heart and always listened with a good ear and gave good sound advice.  Away from the collar, he had a very vulnerable and sensitive side.  

"He retired reluctantly, as he  has dedicated his life to St Etheldredas and raised the profile of the Rosminians and made St Eths the fine established church it is.  He loved St Etheldredas and everything it stood for and St Etheldredas loved him.  Even just before retiring he was still conducting up to three weddings in a day!!!

"He had a wicked sense of humour and would always make me laugh.  He told great stories of his journeys with Ely Tours.

"I remember very fondly a trip to Venice six years ago to help celebrate my mother's 60th birthday.  We stayed in a convent and there were about ten of us staying there including my brother Giles.  The convent rooms were very basic and we only paid about 30 euros a night.  It was great though because we were all together but there was of course, a no alcohol rule.  He was instrumental in the smuggling in of quite a few bottles on that trip and even knew the number of the nearest off licence!  At the end of our stay he told my brother and I we needed to go and settle our bill with the man who I believe was the General of the Order we stayed with.  He took us from a basic convent through a door into what seemed like the Vatican!  I remember Fr Kit said to us "don't say anything until you are spoken to.  Say thank you and kiss his ring - he is like the mafia here".  Indeed the man was very much like the Godfather and we left very quickly.

"Every year he would help organise a children's Christmas party in the crypt .... after Christmas (why do it before when there is so much going on for the children, this could be Santa's last stop, was his thinking).  He would always dress up as Santa and bring joy to all the children when they received great generous gifts two weeks after Christmas.  He would never shout about this role but it was one he loved most.

"The last time I saw Fr Kit was last Thursday in Dublin.  I feel privilaged to have been able to say goodbye to such a wonderful and gracious man.  He was able to acknowledge my presence by squeezing my hand and looking into my eyes.  I will miss him and his wisdom and his cheeky wit."

Another parishioner, John Hughes, who is on Westminster's Architecture Committee, said: "Fr Kit was a man who lived the words of the Exultet ('O felix culpa...') he was a confessor one approached with ease, his compassion soundly based on his own self knowledge, his confidence in forgiveness and delight in the presence of our Saviour. He was full blooded Englishman with a twinkle in his eye and a hearty love of life, proving that none of that sat uneasily in the person of a Catholic pastor."

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