Champaign nun’s “Little Book of Plane Prayers” takes off

By: By Jennifer Willems

CHAMPAIGN — Traveling and writing are all in a day’s ministry for Sister Agnes Cunningham, SSCM.

A patristics scholar who was one of the first women theologians to teach at Mundelein Seminary, the major seminary of the Archdiocese of Chicago, Sister Agnes has often found herself flying for committee work, to give retreats and speak at conferences, or on behalf of her community, the Servants of the Holy Heart of Mary.

“One day it occurred to me that all those flights didn’t have to be something I endured,” Sister Agnes said. “I always enjoyed flying. I thought there must be something deeper than this. The Lord is in every moment of our lives.”

When she had an experience that was “a little different” she started to reflect on it and then write a little prayer.

A collection of those “little prayers” can now be found in “Traveling Graces: A Little Book of Plane Prayers” that has just been released by Liguori Publications. In addition to Sister Agnes’ own experiences with flying, the 80-page paperback includes Scripture passages for further reflection by the reader.

While she is delighted by the outcome, Sister Agnes said she never had any intention of publishing the prayers. It wasn’t until she met Brother Daniel Korn, CSsR, while giving a retreat for some Redemptorist priests in Glenview that she even considered it.

Noting that Liguori was looking for smaller works, he told her, “If you ever think of doing anything you could send it to me and I’d take a look at it,” she recalled. When Sister Agnes ran across the folder of “plane prayers” while cleaning out a file, she decided to take Brother Dan up on his offer.

“Well, a month went by. Two months went by. Three months went by. I thought, ‘Oh, it’s probably not the kind of thing they’re interested in and he doesn’t want to let me down too hard,” Sister Agnes said with a chuckle. “He’ll wait until he has a chance to tell me gently.”

When she did hear from Ligouri the call was from an acquisitions editor who told Sister Agnes, “We are so excited about this little book you sent us.”

She also heard from Father Mathew Kessler, CSsR, president and publisher of Liguori, who said he initially thought, “What on earth is Dan doing sending me a manuscript from a patristics scholar? We don’t do those.”

Sister Agnes holds bachelor’s degrees in church music from the University of Toronto and English from Saint Louis University, a master’s degree in theology from Marquette University, and a doctorate in sacred theology from the Facultes Catholiques in Lyon, France.

Since they contacted her in January, “it’s been a whirlwind,” Sister Agnes said. “I had things published in the past — mostly articles and books I coauthored — but this is amazing. . . . The Liguori family has taken me in and adopted me. It has been an amazing, exciting experience.”

She said one of the most telling critiques came from a member of her community in Champaign, who told her “What I like best, Agnes, is it’s so you.”

“As I was thinking about what she said . . . I realized that when it comes to self revelation, I keep myself very close. I’m very reticent,” Sister Agnes told The Catholic Post. “There is probably more autobiographical information in this in the sense of who I am than anything else I’ve written.”

There are a few exceptions, however. One of them is “Turbulence,” a prayer seeking peace in the midst of “turmoil in my heart and mind.”

“I’m really a quite adventuresome person. I have, all my life, even as a child, had a hard time saying no to a challenge or what looks like an adventure,” Sister Agnes said. “That prayer might have come from speaking with somebody on a plane or knowing someone who is frightened to death to fly.”

The challenge now is for Liguori to find ways to get the book into airport gift shops and book stores, where it might provide comfort and inspiration for other travelers, she said.

“What I hope is that this will help people really know they can find the Lord in the everyday moments and the everyday things of life,” Sister Agnes said.

“Traveling Graces: A Little Book of Plane Prayers” can be found in a number of local stores, including C&A Inspirations in Champaign, Lagron-Miller Company in Peoria, and online from Liguori Publications at

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