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Joe Cunneen

This past Sunday the world saw the passing of Joe Cunneen, by any standards a great twentieth century American Catholic. Together with his wife Sally and Bill Birmingham, Joe published Cross Currents for half a century. Yes, I said half a century, fifty years to be precise. In that time he was principally responsible for bringing to the American Catholic audience some of the best writings of continental European theologians, before and after Vatican II. Rahner and Kng and Congar and Schillebeeckx and many, many others appeared in the pages of the mag.The excuse for including a note on Joe in the Verdicts column is that for all the greatness of the achievement of Cross Currents Joe was much more. He was a great Francophile, indeed had met his wife Sally in Paris just after the end of the Second World War and always remained especially interested in things French. When his time at Cross Currents came to an end and it became the house journal of the Association for Religion and the Intellectual Lifea worthy journal but very different from the one he had editedhe moved on to become the movie critic of The National Catholic Reporter, wrote a fine book on the films of Robert Bresson and also began to promote the writing of the French priest and novelist Jean Sulivan.Anyone who knew Joe will surely agree that his personal intellectual accomplishments were second to his capacity for friendship and his enormous enthusiasm for ideas. To receive a letter from him was always an experience. If the syntax strained the bounds of acceptability, it showed that there was no doubt that here was a mind in ferment, frustrated by the restrictions of the printed word. Here below I am including the official obituary, but it is to be hoped that there will be more appreciations published of Joes immense contribution to the intellectual vigor of American Catholicism. May he rest in peace alongside Sally, his extraordinary and unforgettable wife and colleague."Joseph E. Cunneen, an editor, writer, and teacher on religion, literature, and film, died in his sleep on Sunday at age 89. In 1950, he and his wife, Sally Cunneen, founded Cross Currents, an international ecumenical quarterly that would introduce American readers to such European Catholic thinkers as Emmanuel Mounier and Teilhard de Chardin who would influence the Second Vatican Council. During his 48 years as co-editor, Cross Currents provided a forum for authors such as Hans Kung, Edward Schillebeeckx, Raimundo Panikkar, and Thomas Berry on contemporary religious issues such as feminism, environmentalism, and interfaith dialog."For two decades a film critic for the National Catholic Reporter, Cunneen particularly examined how spirituality was shown in film. His scholarship included studies of filmmakers Bresson, Kieslowski, Rohmer, and Tarkovsky and translations of the novels of Jean Sulivan. He contributed numerous articles to Commonweal, America, Esprit, Midstream, and The Nation. Born in New York City to attorney John Cunneen and teacher Mary Beha Cunneen, he attended Xavier High School and the College of the Holy Cross before serving in the 101st Combat Engineers during WW II. After graduate studies at Catholic University, he taught at Fordham, the College of New Rochelle, St. Peter's College, Baruch, and Mercy College."His partner in life, love, and scholarship was his wife of 60 years, Sally McDevitt Cunneen. After Sally's death of cancer in 2009, Joe's health declined. He leaves behind three sons, Michael, Peter, and Paul; one grandson, Sean; and many devoted friends."

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Prof. Lakeland --Do you think that the presence of such literary magazines encourages would-be writers? I would expect so if a review is half=way decent. That's one reason I'm glad Commonweal has started this Verdicts blog. American Catholic publications generally don't seem truly serious about the writing arts. The French seem to take their literary magazines extremely seriously. Maybe that was one reason Mr. Cunneen loved France.

Thank you for this, Paul. Among his many good qualities, Joseph Cunneen was also a Commonweal contributor - here is a piece he wrote about Jean Sulivan, and here is a short story by Sulivan that Cunneen translated for us.

Thank you for posting this great tribute, Paul. Both Sally and Joseph Cunneen received honorary degrees from the College of the Holy Cross in 1991 for their important contributions. It's good to know that students and scholars can read more of Joseph Cuneen's articles through electronic access to "Commonweal" at the College's Dinand Library.

Thanks for this appreciation of Joe and Sally and their work. "A mind in ferment" is an apt description of the moving spirit behind Cross Currents back in the day. I was not able to take classes with Joe when I was at the College of New Rochelle, but more than made up for it over the years by reading (and re-reading) precious copies of that amazing journal that constantly seemed able to show me how limited my own previous perspectives had been. I still remember reading the special issue Cross Currents did of Mounier's "The Spoil of the Violent." It really rocked my boat. I can feel the ripples to this day.

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About the Author

Paul Lakeland is the Aloysius P. Kelley, SJ, Professor of Catholic Studies at Fairfield University.