New bishop for Hexham and Newcastle

 Pope Benedict XVI has appointed Canon Seamus Cunningham, at present Administrator of the vacant Diocese, to become the 13th Bishop of Hexham and Newcastle. He will be ordained bishop and installed in St Mary's Cathedral Church, Newcastle on Friday, 20 March 2009 at 12 noon - the feast of St Cuthbert, patron of the Diocese.

The Bishop-elect, aged 66, has completed almost 43 years priestly service to the Diocese. Born on 7 July 1942 at Castlebar, Co Mayo, Ireland, he was educated at local schools, which included St Nathy's College, Ballaghaderreen at which Bishop James Cunningham (1957-1974) had also been a student for a short time.

Seamus Cunningham studied for the priesthood at St John's College, Waterford, where he was ordained priest for the Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle on 12 June 1966.

He began as assistant priest in Our Lady and St Joseph's parish, Brooms, in North West Durham, from September 1966 until August 1971.

From 1971 ­ 1972 he was at English Martyrs, Newcastle upon Tyne. Then spent one year, 1972 ­ 1973, at the new Corpus Christi College, London preparing to begin work as a Diocesan Religious Education and Cathechetics advisor, he returned to live and work in the Cathedral but also visited our schools throughout the Diocese.

In 1978 he succeeded Father Leo Pyle as Director of Religious Education in the Diocese and also as Chaplain to St Mary's Teaching Training College of the Sacred Heart of Education at Fenham.

From 1984 to 1987 he spent three years as Spiritual Director to student s for the priesthood at Ushaw College, Durham.

In 1987 he returned to St Mary's Cathedral where he was to spend the next 10 years as Administrator and Parish Priest. He was appointed to the Chapter of Canons shortly afterwards.

He moved to his present parish of St Oswin's, Tynemouth and St Mary's, Cullercoats in 1988 after a short sabbatical in the States.

Bishop Ambrose Griffiths had appointed him one of four Vicars General in 2001.

After his ordination on 25 May 2004, Bishop Kevin Dunn appointed Canon Cunningham as the sole Vicar General. He held this post until the Bishop's death on 1 March 2008. He was with him and his family throughout his illness and death, and was elected Diocesan Administrator on 2 March 2008.

Such a long, varied and wide experience of pastoral, educational and administrative work throughout the diocese has made him known as a quiet builder of both parish and diocesan communities.

Canon Cunningham said: "Although I was surprised to be asked to undertake this task, I am glad that the Diocese will not have to face another change of style within very few years. I hope to start by continuing Bishop Kevin's initiatives before seeking anew what will be best at this time to meet the many challenges in spreading the Gospel today and working with other church bodies and the civil authorities".

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