Remembering Sr. Seton Cunneen ’65 SNDdeN
(Sister Seton Cunneen on the right, with Sr. Ann Howard (l) and the 2020 Cunneen Fellows Rosa Nieves ’23, Dany Vargas ’20 and Juana Ortiz Ayala ’21)
View Sr. Seton’s Funeral Mass:
Remembrance of Sr. Seton Cunneen by Campus Minister Sr. Ann Howard
April 8, 2021
St. Julie Billiart, who founded the SND in 1804, in France, says in her letters, some wonderful sayings that guide us Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur through life. St. Julie speaks of courage, or patience, of God’s unbounding providence and she encourages her sisters to walk in faith, in love, in joy and in simplicity. Among other instructions.
When a Sister of Notre Dame dies, her life-in-mission is fulfilled. This is really the Christian experience, that when someone dies, they live on in memory and more than memory, they become one of a Cloud of Witnesses, the souls of the just who lived according to their faith, and who died with the belief that there is life after death, that life changes, does not end. This is the Easter message when we make note of the fact that Jesus lived and died and Rose again! New Life is generated out of what seems to be unutterable loss and irreconcilable ending. We have all experienced someone who has died, and maybe even within this pandemic time we have felt the sting of death more closely. Our faith tells us and Easter shows us that death is not the final word. Scripture is filled with sayings to this effect: Love and Life are stronger than Death. (Sirach 3)
And today, we pause and pray for the souls of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur who have lived and ministered at Trinity and who have died during this pandemic time. First, let us remember these words of St. Julie,
“Serve the good God well with much liberty of Spirit.”
Each of these Sisters have done so, lived and served well as educators, as professional women, as women of God and friends to others, as women in touch with the needs of their times.
Sr. Margaret Claydon
Sr. Anne Cecilia Coxen
Sr. Mary Reilly
Sr. Cornelia Curran
Sr. Teresa McElewee
Sr. Maura Prendergast
Sr. Ann Gormly
Sr. Rita Buddeke
Sr. Margaret Hoffman
Sr. Seton Cunneen
They are among over 50 SND in the USA who died during 2020 and 2021 and we thank God for their ‘liberty of Spirit’ exercised in various ways. St. Julie also said, “In periods of darkness we can only wait for the sun to reappear.” In other words: Be PATIENT! Let us wait for the time when the vaccinations are received and we can be together to celebrate life and mourn our losses together. For these Sisters and all of our family members, friends and neighbors who have recently died, we pray, St. Julie, pray for us, protect us and bless us! Amen. Alleluia!
President McGuire’s Remembrance of Sr. Seton Cunneen
I always will remember Seton Cunneen surrounded by students — sharing a good laugh, eyes bright with her Irish charm, listening intently, comforting in times of sorrow, gently urging those who could do better to do so, insisting that Latin was not a “dead” language but full of tales reflected in current events, driving off with a van full of students to Food & Friends or Christ House or Apopka near Orlando where her sister SNDs built an amazing ministry among farmworker communities.
Seton was always about others — her ministry a daily remarkable example of the ideals of social justice in solidarity and taking the option for the poor. Her eyes would blaze at instances of injustice, her keen intellect slicing through the deceit of power exercised for self-serving purposes, her voice clear and strong in advocacy for those who suffered the marginalization of racism and discrimination in all of its ugly forms.
When word of Sr. Seton’s illness spread through the Trinity family earlier this year, the messages began arriving in my mailbox paying tribute to the beautiful, unwavering friendships she had cultivated throughout her years as a Trinity alumna, Sister of Notre Dame, Campus Minister, Classics teacher, generous presence in so many lives. Her death on March 28, 2021 was yet another great sorrow among the Sisters of Notre Dame who have lost so many in this terrible year, and also a painful loss for generations of Trinity alumnae.
Seton Cunneen arrived at Trinity in the Fall of 1961 as a first year student in the Class of 1965. She majored in Greek and Latin, and entered the Sisters of Notre Dame after graduation. After earning her master’s at NYU and teaching high school, she returned to Trinity in 1971 as chair of the Classics Department. I enrolled in her Latin courses when I was a student — she loved teaching about antiquity and relating the great stories of the classical world to contemporary events. She was tough but fair, and made it clear to her students that while she could be friendly and a great deal of fun outside of the classroom, in Room 244 it was all about Caesar, Cicero, Ovid and the beauty and tragedy of ancient Rome.
Outside the classroom, Sr. Seton was a constant presence at student events, sports and service activities. In those years we had the Rathskeller in Cuvilly, and Seton was often present to keep an eye on things (I later learned) and while gently moderating our fun she was also engaged in her most important ministry, which was to listen to students and offer the kind of insightful advice that helped so many Trinity students get through whatever difficulties we were encountering.
Sr. Seton worked closely with Dean of Students Winnie Colman and residence life. I recall one long night when I was the residence hall director in Kerby (after my own graduation, when I was in law school) when the dean called me to say a student was missing but Seton had an idea where she might be. We piled into the dean’s car and drove to the place, a nightclub near Annapolis. Seton went inside and sure enough, the student was there; after about an hour, Seton returned to the car and assured us that the student would return to campus on her own, and so she did. Seton had a way of confronting bad behavior that was not scolding or harsh, but very effective in getting her point across to wayward students.
In the 1990’s, after several years away from Trinity during which she also earned her master’s degree in Campus Ministry, Seton returned to alma mater as Campus Minister, and she revitalized the program. She created the concept of the alternative spring break, for years driving a van full of students to the farmworker ministry in Apopka, Florida, founded by another great Trinity Woman Sr. Ann Kendrick ’66, SND (Sr. Ann was recently honored as a “Social Justice Game Changer” by the Orlando Magic). When Seton left Trinity to share her gifts with the young men at Gonzaga College High School, she continued the Apopka trips and then expanded the range of her service trips with students to other U.S. locations and even internationally. [Read the beautiful tribute to Sr. Seton on the Gonzaga website.]
Trinity Alumnae Remember Sr. Seton Cunneen
So many Trinity alumnae have written with memories of Seton, below are some of the tributes and remembrances:
Marybeth Flynn ’65: “Seton has been my friend since freshman Latin class at Marylawn school in South Orange and is the reason I applied to and came to Trinity, along with our Marylawn classmate Aldonna Picardi Noto. Seton was also a presence in the lives of my younger siblings who recall jumping into the back seat of her powder blue Ford convertible, along with her dog, on many of our jaunts around suburban New Jersey. A more recent memory is her surrounded by some of her Gonzaga guys in a hotel bar after a mutual friend’s ordination; she was also the only woman on the altar for that occasion, a standout in a vivid pink jacket – no coincidence I am certain. When one of my nephews served as a Senate page some years ago, she made herself available to him should he have needed support so far from home. These past weeks I have been weighed down knowing of the inevitable end but also knowing she was surrounded, in person and in spirit, by great love.” [Photo left at 2015 50th Reunion of the Class of 1965 with Seton on the right, Marybeth in center, and Aldonna Picardi Noto ’65]
Shea Coleman: “My fondest memory of Sr. Seton was a small gesture that made a huge impact. I was juggling school work, crew, monitoring the computer lab and feeling overwhelmed. She pulled me aside after a particularly grueling Philosophy class and said, “You don’t have to be the best in every endeavor. You just have to do your best. Eventually, your best will set the standard for someone else. Find your joy.” Find my joy. Such a simple phrase. Three words. Three words that have become a daily affirmation for me. The simplicity of this phrase carries so much potential. Sr. Seton had a gift of casting aside the unnecessary vocabulary that often accompanies advice and speaking to a person’s soul. Find your joy. It honors her journey – a journey that touched so many lives. Her generous spirit will be honored and remembered as we go through life. Find your joy.”
(At Seton’s Gonzaga retirement party with Sr. Seton (seated left) and Sr. Ann Gormley (seated right) with Gonzaga moms and Trinity alumnae Marilee Petrucelli Brisbane ’85, Maureen Breshnahan McCarty ’81 and Deborah D’Souza Vazirani ’81
Deborah D’Souza Vazirani ’89: “Seton was my Blue class of 89 advisor and our class adored her. She was loved by so many who went to Trinity in the 80s and 90s. For me her passing is devastating. She was my mentor and friend – present at so many milestones in my life – all four years at TC, my wedding, the baptism of both my children and she was my son Ben’s confirmation sponsor. Because of Seton my son Ben went to Apopka and witnessed the mission of Sister Ann Kendrick and the SNDs at the Hope Community Center in 2013 just as I had done in 1988. I know she is at peace and welcomed to Heaven our our Lord Jesus Christ and her beloved parents, brothers and her SNDs.”
Anne Miskovsky Cekuta ’79: “This is very sad news, and the sun shines a little less brightly as I write this. Sr. Seton was an absolute joy at Trinity, and later I was thrilled to see her again at Gonzaga. She used her gift of empathy for the benefit of students of all ages: my younger son appreciated her generosity of spirit during the stressful times…AP’s, college application times and of course, rowing regattas!!! She accompanied the Trinity Oxford group the year after Sr. Marcella took my group in 1976, so I didn’t meet Sr. Seton until my senior year at Trinity. As an SND sporting a grosgrain-ringed ponytail and wearing bright green corduroys and Fair Isle sweater, Sr. Seton fit right in. However, it was the way her eyes would light up as she saw us in the hallways and her genuine love of God that captivated us and placed her in our hearts forever. As we mourn her death I pray we strive to welcome and be compassionate towards friends and strangers alike, just as Sr. Seton so joyously taught us.”
Tonya M. Esposito ’96: “Kristie [O’Brien ’96] and I were fortunate enough to spend some time with her during Speaker Pelosi’s MSNBC town hall [photo left with Tonya, Seton and Kristie in January 2019]. My memories of traveling with her to Apopka are as vivid as ever. She was so very kind and smart, and such an inspiration. My time at Trinity would not have been the same without her. May God bless her and keep her always. Such an incredible human being.”
Sue Numrich ’67: “I feel a great sorrow in the losses of the SNDs I have known, many of whom were never in classes with me or taught me. One note about Sister Seton – we, the class of ’67, could never envision a reunion without having Seton as part of the celebration whether at our informal dinner on Friday night or the class dinner on Saturday. If we could pry Seton away from her ministry, she was a part of our gang.”
Father Rob Carbonneau, CP: “I was on staff with her as campus chaplain for her entitre tenure as director of campus ministries from 1985 to 1992. She was so impressive and unique in her gift and presence. She reminded me that the ministry of presence and intellect reach the soul of the all peoples. I and so many others have lost a true friend and mentor. She is the best person I have ever worked with.”
Kalpana Gupta ’92 ’94: “My trip to Apopka was one of the most memorable Trinity experiences, and while I was in turn gratified and outraged by the many experiences in the short span of a week, I have very fond memories of our fourteen-hour ride down to Orlando – it was an Indian student’s introduction to Oreos (I dare not share how many we devoured on that car ride for fear my boys’ might read this – it was before I worried about trans fats and high fructose corn syrup!) – I recall the mischief and joie de vivre with which Sr. Seton raised her eyebrows and responded to the server as we sat under the gas lamps at by the Savannah waterfront as we watched the sailors go by, “are you sure you need my driver’s license?” Sr. Seton, thank you for your grace and generosity of spirit. You will be sorely missed…”
Father John O’Connor OFM: “I am so saddened to hear of the death of Seton. She was one of the finest persons that I have ever met, a pure delight to minister with in my years as a Chaplain at Trinity. She had that exceptional mix of talent, joy, warmth of personality, and last but most importantly, holiness. When you were in her presence you knew that you were in the presence of someone special, a true follower of Christ. She lived the gospel in word and action. The students absolutely loved her and she loved each and every one of them. She had a great line when she would discuss with the students their latest boyfriend. She would say to them so “hows it going “ “ is it ( the relationship ) a no no, a so so, or a go go ‘? I had hoped to visit with her in Baltimore and then Covid happened… I so wish I could have visited with her one more time. May she rest in Gods loving hands !”
(Sr. Seton with Irene Horstmann Hannan ’68)