Br Bernard Cunningham was born in 1950 and made his First Vows in 1983. He is a lay brother. He has lived in various fraternities over the years, but mainly in either St Anthony's, Hawthorn and Guardian Angels, Wynnum. He has been involved with various ministries, such as St Vincent de Paul and the Seafarers at the Port of Brisbane. He is currently assisting in the parish of Wynnum, Brisbane. The interview below took place in the late 1990's.
I am the youngest of four children: Patricia, Marea, and Michael. We lived in Gladysdale in the Yarra Valley
(Victoria) in the early fifties. I would say sincerely it was an idyllic childhood. We had fifty acres and bush
behind the fence to explore. Beautiful ferns, valleys, sword grass. We also had cows, calves, and a sheepdog which we gave away as he was being wasted with us.
I loved horses from about 8 years old. I learnt to ride at 14 which included grooming etc. At Primary School I was good at reading and Religion. In secondary School I used to get 80 for history, algebra 12, Latin 45. During this time I had friends I would organise playing football in the holidays. Swimming every day in summer.
I failed form 2 twice. I can't recall being helped in certain areas nor praised for my good points. I suppose I was depressed when I failed twice. I think the school considered me a lost cause. My parents always supported me.
I started work at the supermarket at 15. That job lasted me nine years. I would work hard there, many hours for nothing. I had a fierce determination to keep the job. This was instilled in me by my parents.
When I was twenty my parents returned to Melbourne. I stayed on in Bendigo because of my job, friends, etc. I took up running at 18 and improved each year to run a marathon eventually. I lived at many places. Finally getting a whole house to myself- Mum and Dad helping with the deposit.
I always went to Mass. I belonged to the Y.C.W. since I was 16. In 1976 Fr. Nihill asked me if I would like to come to a charismatic prayer meeting. I came away from that meeting with a tremendous sense of being loved. Jesus was very real. No more competing to prove my worth. A nice Catholic girlfriend came along shortly after! I went to many meetings still retaining my non Charismatic friends. They could see I was changed.
The relationship with the girlfriend changed. In 1977 I remember standing in my backyard thinking I will become a monk or something. During this time I had the house to myself and would pray out loud a lot!
In 1978 I sold my car as I could not afford it with the house payments. I knew I was on the road to a new life and would not turn back. I was involved in the parish: reader, singer, counter, Legion of Mary. I answered a Capuchin Vocation advertisement in the Advocate. I visited many Orders but found them dry and bookish. I visited the Capuchins in Melbourne. I found them prayerful, mysterious but inviting, friendly. So I procrastinated for a time only, I took the plunge... I was accepted and am still here today.
I indeed have been fortunate.