TAYLORS—The newly ordained Father Michael Cunningham received a warm send off at Prince of Peace Church, wrapping up what was a busy, yet rewarding few weeks for the longtime Upstate resident.
More than 600 people filled the church on June 3 for the Latin Mass led by Father Cunningham, and most of them stayed afterward for a celebratory luncheon in his honor.
Father Cunningham was ordained to the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter on May 26 at St. Cecilia Cathedral in Omaha, Nebraska. He returned to the Upstate the following weekend and celebrated Mass at St. Paul the Apostle in Spartanburg and Prince of Peace.
His first assignment within the FSSP starts in July at Our Lady of Fatima Church in Pequannock, N.J.
Born in Fort Pierce, Fla., in 1980, Father Cunningham’s family moved to Spartanburg when he was only 1. His mother, Donna Cunningham, enrolled her children at St. Paul the Apostle Church, and young Michael became an altar boy at Sunday Mass.
“Some of my earliest memories were going to daily Mass with my mom and my sister at St. Paul’s,” he said. “I was probably 3 or 4 years old at that time. I was probably the loudest one praying the Our Father.”
Father Cunningham recalls shadowing the priest in the Nave during daily Mass, blessing each person with the sign of peace.
“I would follow right behind him, shaking hands with the person he had just blessed,” the priest recalled.
“The first house of formation is your family, and my mother was a big part of that,” he said.
His father, Steve, a veteran of the Vietnam War, passed away in 2007 from complications due to exposure to Agent Orange, a defoliant chemical used during the war.
As he grew, despite subsequent financial success as a personal trainer and positions in the medical field at hospitals in Spartanburg and Greenville, Father Cunningham would feel what he calls “the finger of God” tugging at his heart, asking him to choose between marriage and a vocation to the priesthood. That choice would be fulfilled through the Blessed Mother.
In 2010, during what he refers to as “a time of disorientation and exhaustion,” Father Cunningham asked Mary to “ask your son what he wants me to be and I’ll do it. Whether that is to be a priest or to be married, I’ll do it.”
Unbeknownst to him, around that time his own mom recorded a television program featuring the Fraternity of St. Peter.
“The recording was of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Denton, Nebraska, with the Fraternity of St. Peter,” he said.
That intercession led him to sell his house and car and fly from Spartanburg to Omaha and then to Denton, where he entered the seminary in September 2011.
Father Cunningham said while he’s drawn to the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, it wasn’t his decision to be ordained in the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter.
“It was where God wanted me to go,” he said. “In biblical terms, it was like the scene at the wedding feast of Cana when Mary said ‘do whatever He tells you.’’’
Father Christopher Smith, pastor at Prince of Peace, said the new priest “has always been connected with our Latin Mass community.”
He is “a great example to our young people in the parish, a young man from the area who has discerned his vocation, gone to the altar and come back to celebrate Mass for the people,” Father Smith said.
Among those joining in the celebration was Father Cunningham’s mother, Donna. It’s likely no one in attendance was more comforted by what she witnessed.
“I’m very thankful for him,” Mrs. Cunningham said.
Photo, Terry Cregar/Miscellany: Father Michael Cunningham celebrates his ordination with his mother, Donna.