Sister Christa Cunningham is 80-years-young. After recently celebrating 60 years as a Sinsinawa Dominican Sister, she took the time to share insights from her life in ministry in an interview with SOAR!.
Sister Christa’s vibrant personality and sense of humor have been assets in her varied ministries over the years. She has been a teacher as well as a parish minister and loves to connect with people and share her spiritual insights. Her hearty laugh and sparking eyes light up the room when she enters. She is generous in her willingness to share her many gifts.
Sister Christa taught grade school for 13 years, from 1962 to 1975. She directed RCIA programs (the Rite of Christian Initiation) for adults who were interested in joining the Church. She worked with individuals who had gone through divorce, and made hospital visits to parishioners.
She spent her last 30 years in Florida, including as Provincial for the Southern Province. After a sabbatical at the Catholic Theological Union in Hyde Park, Illinois, she went back to Florida, where she served as Director of Adult Spirituality in two different parishes, each for five years.
Question 1: What attracted you to become a Sister?
The faith of my parents, in particular my father. My experiences in Catholic Schools with dedicated sisters. My first fond memory is of my fourth grade teacher who happened to be a Franciscan. As I got more involved in high school I had Dominican Sisters and was always impressed with the love they had for the students and their community. I entered right after I graduated from high school.
Question 2: As you look at yours years of faithful service, what has been your greatest joy? Your greatest challenge?
My greatest joy is the opportunity to have met and be involved in the lives of so many, in both education and parish ministry. To see these people grow in holiness is a great joy and blessing.
My great challenge is there never seems to be enough time to get everything done. Sometime you feel like you are going 24/7. Another challenge is to correct the misconceptions that some people have about sisters.
Question 3: Can you share a story or some insight about a favorite time in ministry?
At one of the parishes I served at in Florida, I got to know this gentleman who came to church with his wife every Sunday, although he was not Catholic. One time when I was meeting people after Mass, I saw him and I asked him if he had ever considered becoming Catholic. (I knew he had a son who was studying to become a priest.) I asked him if he would be willing to come to an RCIA meeting. He said he would. He entered the program and actually became Catholic before his son was ordained, so he could take communion at his son’s Ordination Mass. I asked him why he didn’t become Catholic sooner. He simply said no one had ever asked him. It was a great example to me that we need to be open to the call of God and invite everyone to participate.
I try to do that every day. I have always loved my name Christa. I have always felt that since I am named after Christ, I need to show his love and compassion as much as I can.
One time I interviewed at an affluent parish. After the interview I told the priest that I didn’t think they needed me. They seemed to have everything. He responded that his parish definitely needed me. They needed me to help them love Jesus more. A lot of people have told me that I have made a difference in their lives to help them love God more.
Question 5: Do you have a word of wisdom you’d like to share with people?
Everyone needs to know that we are unconditionally loved by God, regardless of what we do, we are still God’s beloved children and we will always have God’s love.