Father Cuneo remembered as a man of great humility who virtuously ‘wore three hats’

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As parish priest, military chaplain and teacher — these were the three ways in which Father James J. Cuneo served the Church during his 55 years of priesthood, leaving a legacy of humble and sacrificial love to God, family, country and everyone he encountered. He passed away April 1 at the age of 82.

“Father Jim was a devoted priest and servant of the Lord.  He truly loved his vocation.  He enjoyed life and was humbly proud of what he was able to do and accomplish through the grace of God,” said Bob Cuneo, his younger brother. “He strived to use the time, talents, and treasures that the Lord gave him for the benefit of others. He wanted others to enjoy life the way he did.”

Father Cuneo was born on April 18, 1937 in Denver. He graduated from Holy Family High School in 1955, and subsequently entered St. Thomas Seminary in Denver. He was ordained to the priesthood on May 25, 1963, at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Denver by Bishop David M. Maloney.

After serving as assistant pastor and high school teacher at several parishes including Holy Ghost in Denver, Holy Cross in Thornton and St. Mary’s in Colorado Springs, an experience would kindle in him the desire to serve soldiers and their families.

“Two of my students were killed and several wounded in the Vietnam War. That started me to thinking about the spiritual needs of these young people facing injury and death far from home,” Father Cuneo told the Denver Catholic in an article published Aug. 22, 2007.

He received permission from the archdiocese to join the Air Force for a span of 20 years, during which he served in Korea, Germany and Turkey during the Gulf War; and even as the only priest in Thule, Greenland. He also served as chaplain at Edwards Airforce Base in California and the Lowry Air Force Base in Denver. He attained the rank of lieutenant colonel.

Upon his return to the Archdiocese of Denver, he served as pastor of St. William Parish in Ft. Lupton and St. Stephen Parish in Glenwood Springs; and as parochial vicar at St. Therese Parish in Aurora, Spirit of Christ Parish in Arvada and St. Joan of Arc Parish in Arvada.

Bob believes his brother’s legacy includes his strong love for God, his deep love for his family, his patriotic love for his country and soldiers, and his love and compassion for people. All these things he did with a combination of seriousness, humor and humility.

“Father Jim had two sides that blended well together,” Bob said. “He had the serious side of him, in which he wanted to be a priest and a chaplain, and help people in whatever struggles of life they had … But then he had the fun side of him, where he loved to tell jokes and play pranks … I think that’s what made him a complete person. He loved his life so much that he wanted others to enjoy life the way he did.”

Father Nathan Goebel, pastor at St. Joan of Arc Parish — where Father Cuneo assisted as a retired priest — admired the priest’s humility.

“For a [person] who had every reason to talk about himself, he would normally just talk about the way in which he was able to serve… He was grateful for what he had received instead of bragging about what he had done,” Father Goebel said. “So, to me it was a great reminder that a priest is a minister of service and not just one who just lives an exalted life… He will certainly be missed.”

“He wore three hats: He was a priest, a chaplain and a teacher. And I think he wore them effectively and successfully… And he didn’t do it out of glory for himself; he did it for the glory of God,” Bob concluded.

“Father Jim truly emulated what St. Paul said: ‘Whoever boasts, should boast in the Lord’” (2 Cor 10:17).

COMING UP: Five Hispanic-American saints perhaps you didn’t know

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The American continent has had its share of saints in the last five centuries. People will find St. Juan Diego, St. Rose of Lima or St. Martin de Porres among the saints who enjoy greater popular devotion. Yet September, named Hispanic Heritage Month, invites a deeper reflection on the lives of lesser-known saints who have deeply impacted different Latin-American countries through their Catholic faith and work, and whose example has the power to impact people anywhere around the world. Here are just a few perhaps you didn’t know.

St. Toribio de Mogrovejo
1538-1606
Peru

Born in Valladolid, Spain, Toribio was a pious young man and an outstanding law student. As a professor, his great reputation reached the ears of King Philip II, who eventually nominated him for the vacant Archdiocese of Lima, Peru, even though Toribio was not even a priest. The Pope accepted the king’s request despite the future saint’s protests. So, before the formal announcement, he was ordained a priest, and a few months later, a bishop. He walked across his archdiocese evangelizing the natives and is said to have baptized nearly half a million people, including St. Rose of Lima and St. Martin de Porres. He learned the local dialects, produced a trilingual catechism, fought for the rights of the natives, and made evangelization a major theme of his episcopacy. Moreover, he worked devotedly for an archdiocesan reform after realizing that diocesan priests were involved in impurities and scandals. He predicted the date and hour of his death and is buried in the cathedral of Lima, Peru.

St. Mariana of Jesus Paredes
1618-1645
Ecuador

St. Mariana was born in Quito, modern-day Ecuador, and not only became the country’s first saint, but was also declared a national heroine by the Republic of Ecuador. As a little girl, Mariana showed a profound love for God and practiced long hours of prayer and mortification. She tried joining a religious order on two occasions, but various circumstances would not permit it. This led Mariana to realize that God was calling her to holiness in the world. She built a room next to her sister’s house and devoted herself to prayer and penance, living miraculously only off the Eucharist. She was known to possess the gifts of counsel and prophecy. In 1645, earthquakes and epidemics broke out in Quito, and she offered her life and sufferings for their end. They stopped after she made her offering. On the day of her death, a lily is said to have bloomed from the blood that was drawn out and poured in a flowerpot, earning her the title of “The Lily of Quito.”

St. Theresa of Los Andes
1900-1920
Chile

St. Theresa of Jesus of Los Andes was Chile’s first saint and the first Discalced Carmelite to be canonized outside of Europe. Born as Juana, the future saint was known to struggle with her temperament as a child. She was proud, selfish and stubborn. She became deeply attracted to God at the age six, and her extraordinary intelligence allowed her to understand the seriousness of receiving First Communion. Juana changed her life and became a completely different person by the age of 10, practicing mortification and deep prayer. At age 14, she decided to become a Discalced Carmelite and received the name of Theresa of Jesus. Deeply in love with Christ, the young and humble religious told her confessor that Jesus told her she would die soon, something she accepted with joy and faith. Shortly thereafter, Theresa contracted typhus and died at the age of 19. Although she was 6 months short of finishing her novitiate, she was able to profess vows “in danger of death.” Around 100,000 pilgrims visit her shrine in Los Andes annually.

St. Laura Montoya
1874-1949
Colombia

After Laura’s father died in war when she was only a child, she was forced to live with different family members in a state of poverty. This reality kept her from receiving formal education during her childhood. What no one expected is that one day she would become Colombia’s first saint. Her aunt enrolled her in a school at the age of 16, so she would become a teacher and make a living for herself. She learned quickly and became a great writer, educator and leader. She was a pious woman and wished to devote herself to the evangelization of the natives. As she prepared to write Pope Pius X for help, she received the pope’s new Encyclical Lacrymabili Statu, on the deplorable condition of Indians in America. Laura saw it as a confirmation from God and founded the Missionaries of the Immaculate Heart and St. Catherine of Siena, working for the evangelization of natives and fighting or their behalf to be seen as children of God.

St. Manuel Morales
1898-1926
Mexico

Manuel was a layman and one of many martyrs from Mexico’s Cristero War in the 1920s. He joined the seminary as a teen but had to abandon this dream in order to support his family financially. He became a baker, married and had three children. This change, however, did not prevent him from bearing witness to the faith publicly. He became the president of the National League for the Defense of Religious Liberty, which was being threatened by the administration of President Plutarco Elías Calles. Morales and two other leaders from the organization were taken prisoners as they discussed how to free a friend priest from imprisonment through legal means. They were beaten, tortured and then killed for not renouncing to their faith. Before the firing squad, the priest begged the soldiers to forgive Morales because he had a family. Morales responded, “I am dying for God, and God will take care of my children.” His last words were, “Long live Christ the King and Our Lady of Guadalupe!”