Fr. Vincent Cunniff, a priest for 70 years, receives anointing on his 102nd birthday July 12 from Auxiliary Bishop Kenneth Steiner at Maryville Care Center. (Ed Langlois/Catholic Sentinel)
Fr. Vincent Cunniff, a priest for 70 years, receives anointing on his 102nd birthday July 12 from Auxiliary Bishop Kenneth Steiner at Maryville Care Center. (Ed Langlois/Catholic Sentinel)
BEAVERTON — Western Oregon’s oldest Catholic priest turned 102 July 12 and was up to concelebrating Mass.

Father Vincent Cunniff, with stole draped over his shoulders, prayed alongside Auxiliary Bishop Kenneth Steiner at Maryville Care Center. A handful of guests came for the liturgy and celebration.

“I ask almighty God to bless all those I have been given the grace of serving,” Father Cunniff said.

The priest, a 1934 Cathedral School graduate who was as a bombardier over Europe during World War II, became a longtime beloved pastor in western Oregon. He was ordained in 1953 and served long stints in places like Medford, Salem, Stayton, Southeast Portland, Eugene, Oakridge, Dexter and Florence. He is an advocate of Catholic schools and he personally made major donations to keep Catholic education accessible.

Even as he hit the century mark, he continued priestly ministry, hearing confessions and offering anointing at Maryville. Now, bound to bed or wheelchair, he is frustrated he can’t do more.

“We thank God for all he has done for Father Vince and for all the good done for others through Father Vince,” Bishop Steiner said during the prayers of the faithful.

Sister Josephine Pelster, pastoral care leader at Maryville and a Sister of St. Mary of Oregon, prayed in thanksgiving for what she called Father Cunniff’s “deep desire to evangelize all he encounters.”

Carolyn Kenney, now a member of St. Pius X Parish in Portland, was a first grader at St. Peter School in Eugene when she met Father Cunniff in 1967. “No words can explain what he means to us,” Kenney said, recalling that the priest accompanied her family in both laughter and tears.

“He is living history, and I am a history buff,” said Joe Boylan, a member of Holy Trinity Parish in Beaverton who comes to read to Father Cunniff regularly.

“He is the center of our family,” said Susie Blake, a 79-year-old niece who came from Seattle for the birthday celebration. “He has been a really positive force in our lives.”

Blake knows her uncle not only as a man of prayer, but as a friendly fellow who told ghost stories and was supportive of all. Several boys in the family are named Vincent in his honor.