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: A holy Church begins with you

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A holy Church begins with you

Bishop Rodriguez challenges Catholics to realize their call to holiness

Roxanne King

Even as the Catholic Church deals with the disgrace and shame of the clergy sexual abuse scandal and moves forward with repentance and renewal, it is challenging as faithful not to be disheartened and discouraged.

The answer to this situation is to follow the Scriptural mandate to holiness all Catholic Christians have been given, Denver auxiliary Bishop Jorge Rodriguez told attendees of the May 17-19 Aspen Catholic conference titled, “The Encounter: New Life in Jesus Christ.”

As he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in every aspect of your conduct, for it is written, ‘be holy, because I [am] holy,’” the bishop said, quoting I Peter 1:15-16.

“Holiness,” the bishop asserted, “…is the only thing that will get our Church through this crisis. It’s a transformation that we all need.”

The annual conference, an initiative of Father John Hilton, pastor of St. Mary Parish in Aspen where the event was held, drew people from the Archdiocese of Denver and from outside the state to strengthen their relationship with Jesus Christ, deepen their understanding of the Catholic faith, renew their spirit in the beauty of Colorado’s high country, and return home equipped to better share their faith.

Despite the current crisis, which is evidence the Church is comprised of sinners, every Sunday when professing the Creed, Catholics say, “I believe in the holy Catholic Church.”

“We say publicly that we believe the Catholic Church is holy. Do we mean it?” Bishop Rodriguez mused before affirming: “The Catholic Church, like it or not, will always be holy for three reasons.”

First: “Jesus Christ is the author of holiness and he is the head of the Church. … Jesus is the Church with all of us. The holiness of Jesus fills the whole Church.”

Second: “The Church is the only institution in the world that possesses all the means of sanctification left by Christ for his Church to sanctify its members and to make them holy.”

Third: “There are many, many holy people in the Church, both in heaven and here on earth.”

Holiness…is the only thing that will get our Church through this crisis. It’s a transformation that we all need.”

Slain STEM School shooting hero Kendrick Castillo is an example of a holy, young Catholic, Bishop Rodriguez said.

“He gave his life for his classmates. If this is not holiness, what is?” the bishop said about the 18-year-old who was killed May 7 when he tackled a teen shooter.

Servant of God Julia Greeley, a former slave known for her acts of charity and generosity from her own meager means to others in early Denver, and St. John Paul II, who in emphasizing the universal call to holiness of all Christians beatified and canonized more people than the combined total of his predecessors in the five centuries before him, were among others Bishop Rodriguez mentioned who comprise “the great cloud of witnesses” (Heb 12:1) of those believers who have preceded us into God’s kingdom. Additionally, there are countless “next-door saints,” he said, using a term coined by Pope Francis to describe those unknowns of heroic virtue among our family, friends and neighbors.

Rodriguez said, because the Scriptures say, Christ so loved the Church and gave himself up for her to make her holy (Eph 5:25-26).

“‘The Church is holy because it proceeds from God, who is holy,’” the bishop said, quoting Pope Francis’ Oct. 2, 2013, general audience address. “’It is not holy by our merits; we are not able to make her holy. It is God, the Holy Spirit, who in his love makes the Church holy.’

“The Catholic Church is and will be holy, even though some of her members still need repentance and conversion,” Bishop Rodriguez said. “Great sinners don’t make our Church unholy, but make the Church a factory of saints, where sinners are made holy by the power of God.”

Holiness is our deepest longing because we were created to be holy, the bishop said. But the only way to realize that call is to submit to God and allow him to transform us, he said, using the scriptural analogy of clay taking shape in a potter’s hands.

“We cannot deserve, produce, gain, create, or make holiness,” Bishop Rodriguez said. “Only God in his gratuitousness and infinite love can make a saint of you. … Holiness is pure gift, is grace.”

Catholics believe holiness is real — that grace received through the sacraments, prayer and reading Scripture, infuses and transforms the believer into a new creation, Bishop Rodriguez said.

“Salvation is real,” the bishop said. “Pope Francis [warns] about a heresy that has been in the Church since apostolic times under different appearances — Gnosticism. It is a doctrine of salvation by knowledge, reducing Christianity to doctrine [or] text, to something intellectual.”

In doing so, Gnosticism loses the flesh of the incarnation and reduces Jesus to his message, Bishop Rodriguez said. Likewise, Protestant theologian Rudolf Bultmann, a major figure of 20th-century biblical studies and liberal Christianity, promoted “demythologizing” the Gospel to attract modern adherents.

As a result, “people lost faith that these things really happened,” Bishop Rodriguez said. “[Bultmann] did tremendous damage to Christianity.”

The Apostles, however, insisted on the truth of Jesus’ incarnational reality, the bishop said, noting the First Letter of St. John proclaims: What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we looked upon and touched with our hands, concerns the Word of life — for the life was made visible; we have seen it and testify to it and proclaim to you.

Great sinners don’t make our Church unholy, but make the Church a factory of saints, where sinners are made holy by the power of God.”

“Our Christian faith is not a body of doctrines, not a code of conduct, not an ethical idea, not an elaborated ritual,” Bishop Rodriguez said. “It is not even a community. It is a personal encounter with Jesus Christ. It is an event. It is a person. It is an event that happens. In the Gospel everything begins with an encounter with Jesus. Have we encountered Jesus?”

Jesus may be encountered through prayer, Scripture and the sacraments, Bishop Rodriguez said.

“These are three gifts God has given to us to open us to holiness,” he said. “These are the Catholic ways to have a personal encounter with Jesus that is real.”

Regarding prayer: “The best way to start is to become aware of Jesus presence. … prayer [then] becomes a personal encounter, otherwise it’s an intellectual exercise.”

Regarding Scripture: “It’s not about information … it’s about God telling his love for me.”

Regarding sacraments: “The sacramental life is God touching me with his holiness.

“In the Catholic Church we believe that Jesus Christ didn’t want us to only have a recorded memory of him as in the Scriptures, but a living presence among us. He said: ‘I will be with you until the end of time.’”

I dare you to allow God to make a great saint of you.”

Just as Jesus was present with the people of Galilee healing and forgiving them, so he is present with us today through the sacraments, Bishop Rodriguez said.

“That’s why he instituted the sacraments. Each sacrament is a merciful and sweet touch of Jesus in our lives,” the bishop said. “This is what we mean when we say he makes us holy through the sacraments.”

So why isn’t there more holiness in our lives and more saints in the Church?

“God wants to work with our clay … but to make a saint is a question of love,” Bishop Rodriguez said. “Love cannot be imposed, it cannot be mandated.”

Rather, one must cooperate with God’s grace to become the saint God desires.

“Last March, Pope Francis wrote an apostolic exhortation on our call to be holy, Rejoice and Be Glad,” Bishop Rodriguez said. “His thesis is that we have been made for happiness, and true happiness and joy only comes from a holy life.”

Holiness doesn’t mean perfection, performing miracles or that we are not tempted, Bishop Rodriguez said. Rather, it means loving God and one’s neighbor by doing the everyday tasks of life with love.

The answer for times of persecution and crisis in the Church has always been the holiness of the people of God, Bishop Rodriguez said.

“I dare you to allow God to make a great saint of you,” he challenged.

“This is our response to the Church crisis today: holy Catholic men and women,” he asserted. “We will never give up and we will fight against discouragement and loss of hope. Jesus is with us as he promised.”

Featured image by Roxanne King