Sister Madonna Marie Cunningham, OSF, Former Congregational Minister of the
Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia and Former President of Neumann University
Aston, PA—Sister Madonna Marie Cunningham, OSF, 76, died in Assisi House on January 20. She had been a professed member of the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia for 54 years. Sister Madonna Marie (Clare Patricia Cunningham) was born in Trenton, New Jersey, where she was a member of Blessed Sacrament Parish and a graduate of Cathedral High School. She entered the congregation in 1953 and professed her first vows in 1056. Her sister, Sister Claudia Cunningham, is also a member of the congregation. Sister Madonna Marie earned a B.A. in English from Villanova University, and both an M.A. in Psychology and a PhD in Clinical Psychology from Fordham University. She ministered in education on both the elementary and college level, in congregational ministry, and in healthcare. In 2003 Sister Madonna Marie received the Papal Cross of Honor, Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice. In 2007 Neumann University initiated the Sister Madonna Marie Cunningham Award, an honor to be presented annually to a student in the Pastoral Counseling or Spiritual Direction Program who best demonstrates service “within and beyond the program of studies.” In naming the award after Sister Madonna Marie, the university recognized that, as a clinical psychologist, she “recognized the needs of a hurting world for psychological care grounded on a spiritual foundation rich in Franciscan values.”
Sister Madonna Marie’s early years in ministry were spent in elementary education. She taught at St. Charles School, Spokane, Washington (1956-1957) and at Corpus Christi School, Wilmington, Delaware (1957-1960).
Sister Madonna Marie ministered for 37 years in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. From 1968-1970 she opened the counseling center at Neumann University where she became the director of counseling and taught psychology. In 1970 she became president of Neumann University, a position she held until 1983. During Sister Madonna’s term as president of Neumann, the college opened the Child Development Center and built the Life Center. During those years she also served as a member of the general council of the Sisters of St. Francis (1974-1978) and served on the staff of the Counseling Services for Religious in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. From 1984-1986 she ministered on the staff of the St. Clare Renewal Center in Aston. In 1986 she was elected as congregational minister of the Sisters of St. Francis and served two terms in this position (1986-1996). From 1999-2001 she served as director of Franciscan Ministries Foundation (now Sisters of St. Francis Foundation). In 2002 she began ministering as a spiritual counselor for the retired sisters at Assisi House. She herself became a resident of Assisi House in 2007 and served in prayer ministry until her death.
Sister Madonna Marie also ministered for a short time in healthcare, serving as Vice President of Mission and Ministry at St. Joseph Hospital in Lancaster, Pennsylvania (1997-1999).
All services will be held in Our Lady of Angels Convent Chapel, 609 S. Convent Road, Aston, Pennsylvania. Viewing will be on Tuesday, January 26 from 6-9 P.M., with a Vigil service at 7 P.M. On Wednesday, January 27, there will be a viewing from 9:30-11 A.M, followed by the Mass of Christian burial at 11 A.M. Burial will be in Our Lady of Angels Cemetery in Aston. Sister Madonna Marie is survived by her sisters, Sister Claudia Cunningham, OSF, and Maryann Cavanagh; her brothers, Richard Cunningham and Donald Cunningham; nieces and nephews; and by her Franciscan family. Donations in her name can be made to the Sisters of St. Francis Foundation, 609 S. Convent Road, Aston, PA 19014.