In Memoriam: Sr. Seton Cunneen

The Gonzaga community mourns the passing of Sr. Seton Cuneen, who died peacefully on Sunday, March 28 at Mount Notre Dame after a long illness. "Her many years of selfless work at Gonzaga running our Christian Service Program profoundly impacted hundreds of Gonzaga boys, faculty, and staff," said Father Planning. "She was the consummate woman for others.  She will be greatly missed."

Religion Teacher Brendan Hartnett '98, who worked closely with Sr. Seton for many years, writes:

"The Ignatian tradition teaches us that when we take the time to examine and reflect on the course of our lives prayerfully, we can learn to see God’s hand. Sometimes life events or the people we encounter in our daily interactions have a more considerable and lasting impact than we might realize at first glance. Sometimes these events or encounters are moments of grace, and its influence on our lives continues to expand over time. 
"I was blessed to know Sr. Seton Cuneen for half my life, and in that time, she was my teacher, colleague, mentor, and dear friend. We worked side by side on service projects, made Kairos together, prayed for and with each other, laughed, cried, teased, and hugged countless times. Her impact on my life is immeasurable, and I am a better person for having known her.

"If the eyes indeed are the window to the soul,  Seton must have had one of the most beautiful souls God ever created. Countless members of our community looked into her eyes and found inspiration by her sense of purpose, unwavering faith, and tremendous capacity for love. She embodied the Christian ideal of servant leadership and worked tirelessly to develop and expand the community service and social justice programs at Gonzaga.

"We had an angel among us on Eye Street for twenty years. Her eyes may now be closed, but the soul that shined so brightly behind them will forever serve as an inspiration and reminder of the selflessness and service to others we all aspire to achieve. 
"May God bless and keep you, Seton. You are loved. " 

Below is the citation that was read when Sr. Seton was awarded the St. Aloysius Medal in 2003.

On a recent visit to a soup kitchen at Nativity Church on the Lower East side of Manhattan, a homeless guest approached Seton Cunneen and inquired, “Don’t I know you?”  When Seton demurred, that no, she was sorry, she was not from New York, he said, “Don’t you remember one day at the McKenna’s Wagon stop in DC; you asked me why I was reading the New York Daily News?”  Fibbing, she replied, “Oh, of course, how have you been…” and continued the conversation.

While some may think it is the halo of angelic white hair that makes Sr. Seton so memorable, those who know her best know that it is really her remarkable empathy with the poor that is her signature.  Everywhere she goes, it seems someone knows her, or remembers her.  Seton is a woman with a big heart, and an endless capacity to love the poor.  It is on display every week handing out sandwiches at the corner of 15th and K, or in the Perry School or at Martha’s Table.  It is manifest each spring and summer in her labors in Apopka, or Camden, or Guatemala, or the Dominican Republic.  Seton goes to where ever there are those in need.

Whether it’s just a warm hand to hold, a bright smile to comfort, a lively conversation to engage, or a strong arm to labor, Seton’s presence makes a difference.

But lest we think her vocation is limited to this habit of the heart, we should note that Seton is also a Classicist.  She first came to Washington from her home in East Orange, NJ to study Latin and Greek as an undergraduate at Trinity College.  After a brief stint teaching high school Latin in Atlanta, Seton returned to the classroom to earn an MA in Classics from NYU and spent the next decade teaching Classics at Trinity.  During this period, she spent a year in Oxford directing a study abroad program, a summer at the American Academy in Rome as a Fulbright scholar, and another summer at the University of Texas as an NEH scholar.

But when it was suggested to her that she earn her doctorate and make a career of the academy, Seton balked, and redirected her attention toward the pastoral activities for which she is so well known to us.  She earned another MA, this time in Campus Ministry at Fordham, taught ESL at Queensborough Community College in New York, and finally returned to Trinity College as Director of Campus Ministry, a position she held for a decade before moving to Eye Street in 1995.  For the past eight years now her example has been a model to us of what it means to be a “Woman (or man) for Others.”
When the Sisters of Notre Dame’s foundress, St. Julie Billiart was Canonized in 1969, Pope Paul VI said, “Saintliness is a drama of love between God and the human person, a drama in which the real protagonist is God, operating and cooperating in us.  No story is more interesting, rich, profound, and surprising than this drama.”  For Sr. Seton, all of life is infused with this drama of love.  All of life makes us want to say, “Oh how good is the good God.”

With deference to the unique charism of St. Julie, Seton possesses the keen intellect, the habit of heart, and the restless energy of a Jesuit Saint we hold dear at Gonzaga.  And so for her unwavering service to the Church, her boundless love of the poor, and her grace-filled teaching of the young men in her care, we are proud to award the St. Aloysius Gonzaga medal to Sister Seton Cunneen, SND.

Eternal rest grant unto her O Lord and let perpetual light shine upon her. May she rest in peace. Amen.
Educating young men in the Jesuit tradition since 1821