Diocesan News

St. Sebastian’s Scholarship Honors Alumni’s Dad

Robert Cunningham sacrificed to send his four children to Catholic school at St. Sebastian’s, Woodside.

Keeping this sacrifice in mind, the school has announced an annual scholarship in his memory. The announcement was made at the school June 18 with members of the Cunningham family, St. Sebastian’s parish and the diocese on hand.

Cunningham passed away in 2011. His son, Father Jim Cunningham, pastor of Holy Name of Jesus parish, Park Slope, is a 1982 graduate of St. Sebastian’s. The senior Cunningham worked two jobs to pay the tuition at the school.

Auxiliary Bishop Paul Sanchez holds a plaque honoring Robert Cunningham as parish and diocesan officials look on at St. Sebastian’s School, Woodside. (Photo by Jim Mancari)
Auxiliary Bishop Paul Sanchez holds a plaque honoring Robert Cunningham as parish and diocesan officials look on at St. Sebastian’s School, Woodside. (Photo by Jim Mancari)

“As a child, I didn’t understand it or appreciate it, but as an adult, I’ve realized that both of my parents wanted us to have the best education,” Father Cunningham said. “In their minds, they wanted us to come to Catholic school.”

After Robert Cunningham passed away, Msgr. Kieran Harrington, diocesan vicar for communications, wanted to honor his memory. Father Cunningham served as the chairman of the board of The Tablet for six years, so Msgr. Harrington and the DeSales Media Group’s board of directors came up with the idea of a scholarship in Robert’s name.

“Everything he (Robert) did, at least in my mind, was always so that we could have the best,” Father Cunningham said. “It was never about him. His priority was always us.”

The $500 scholarship will be awarded to a rising eighth-grade student who comes from a large family with at least three students in St. Sebastian’s School.

“In that way, it will respect Mr. Cunningham’s desire for working two jobs so that his children would get a Catholic school education,” said Msgr. Michael Hardiman, pastor.

Jo Ann Dolan, principal, added that it’s common for students to come from families in which both parents work, with the father often working two jobs. She said these families follow the Cunninghams’ sacrifice in that morals, values and an education embedded in Christianity are of utmost importance.

“There is a feeling that they (the parents) are doing something priceless for their kids, and they won’t hear of anything else,” she said. “They’ll work the two jobs.”

“So many parents today make the sacrifice so their children can go to Catholic school because they want to have Christ in the lives of their children,” Father Cunningham said.

At the beginning of Catholic Schools Week in 2008, Father Cunningham was named a Distinguished Graduate of St. Sebastian’s by the National Catholic Education Association. Dolan said the scholarship in Robert Cunningham’s memory is also a great way to honor his son as a dedicated priest.

“He (Father Cunningham) loves the school,” Dolan said. “He just really has a heart for this place. He always wants to do something with the school. His roots are here.”

Each year, the school receives donations to fund a number of scholarships. Seventh-grade students with the highest grade in each of six subject areas are awarded a $500 scholarship, and the school also offers scholarships in Effort, Women in Leadership and a Queen of Angels, Sunnyside, service award. Recipients are named the first week of each September.

The Robert Cunningham scholarship is one of two new scholarships at St. Sebastian’s, bringing the total amount of annual awards to 11. At this year’s eighth grade graduation, the school community announced a scholarship in honor of the late Bishop Joseph Sullivan. The recipient will demonstrate a concern for the poor and marginalized of society in dedication of how Bishop Sullivan lived his life.