9/20/12 | 1091 views
Through Time and Place
Patrick Holland, a native of Ireland, came a long way last week to pay his respects to a granduncle who died well before he was born 83 years ago.
His relative was Father Peter Cunniffe, C.Ss.R., who is buried in the crypt at Most Holy Redeemer Church on East Third Street in lower Manhattan. Holland and his nephew, Martin Ford, of Boston, arrived in New York City on the morning of Sept. 12. After the stop at the church, the pair were to make a visit to the National September 11 Memorial at the World Trade Center.
Holland’s journey actually began on the other side of the Atlantic, in Oranmore, outside Galway, where he lives and where he says a picture of Father Cunniffe once hung in his parish church there.
Father Cunniffe was the uncle of Holland’s mother, Bridget. He said she told him that when she was a little girl, her family hosted a big party for a relative who was leaving for America.
He’s pretty sure that relative was Father Cunniffe.
The story fits, but the tale is far from a straight path. Before the priest got to the Redemptorists in Manhattan, Father Cunniffe made stops at Fordham University, where he earned a degree; at the University of Louvain in Belgium, where he earned another and was ordained; and then in Washington State, where he was a diocesan priest before encountering the Redemptorists in Seattle and entering their novitiate.
Father Cunniffe eventually made his way back to New York, and to the Redemptorist-run St. Alphonsus Church on Leonard and Thompson streets, which is now closed. That was home base for Father Cunniffe, who spent most of his years traveling up and down the northeast section of the country and then some. He would preach missions as far north as New Brunswick, Canada, and as far south as Richmond, Va., and west to Pittsburgh.
That’s quite a territory, but by all counts Father Cunniffe covered it well and even made it home to St. Alphonsus in time to preach to huge crowds in Irish each St. Patrick’s Day.
His last years were far from easy. The neighborhood around St. Alphonsus was troubled. According to information provided by Patrick Hayes, the archivist for the Redemptorists’ Baltimore Province, anarchists looking to do damage set off a bomb that went off in a stairwell of the parish house at St. Alphonsus in 1914. In his later years, Father Cunniffe suffered from the effects of diabetes.
His death at age 73 on April 19, 1917, was duly recorded to the hour in flowing cursive script in the house chronicles, as was the fact that his remains were buried in the Redemptorist crypt at Most Holy Redeemer.
In speaking about the 23 years Father Cunniffe served at St. Alphonsus, the writer noted his special desire to assist the poor and the afflicted wherever he encountered them. “The poorer, the more unfortunate, the more miserable they were, greater was his delight in spreading himself at all times and pouring out his zeal for all God’s children,” said his life’s narrative, which compared him to St. John Vianney and to New York’s Father John Drumgoole.
Patrick Holland has visited New York many times before. He even lived in the United States for some years as a younger man and recalls happy days playing the sport of hurling at Gaelic Park in the Bronx.
As an older man who has spent some time “going back over my ancestors,” he said that he wanted to be able to say he put his hand on Father Cunniffe’s tomb. Father Sean McGillicuddy, C.Ss.R., the current pastor of Most Holy Redeemer, accompanied him to the crypt, as did his Holland’s nephew.
Patrick Hayes, the archivist, said he also learned a few things about Father Cunniffe’s family background from his grandnephew.
“When I get a hold of something in my head, I don’t let it go until it’s finished,” Holland told those joining him at the crypt.
Browse our archive of photos