Dr. Clement P. Cunningham, papal and diocesan honoree from Rock Island, dies

Dr. Clement P. Cunningham

ROCK ISLAND — A Mass of Christian burial was offered Sept. 7 at St. Pius X Church here for Dr. Clement P. Cunningham, a former president of the National Catholic Federation of Catholic Physician Guilds who received papal and diocesan honors but is remembered as a humble man with unwavering faith and conviction.

Cunningham, a retired Rock Island family physician, died on Sunday, Sept. 2, 2018, at Heartland Health Care Center in Moline. He was 96.

Msgr. Mark Merdian, pastor of St. Pius X Parish and episcopal vicar for health care in the Diocese of Peoria, was principal celebrant and homilist at the funeral Mass.

“Was there ever a more gentle, kind, intelligent, faith-filled and other-centered doctor than Dr. Clem Cunningham,” asked Msgr. Merdian. Reflecting on the Gospel’s parable of the Good Samaritan, Msgr. Merdian noted that “as a physician who made house calls, Clem cared for every single one of his patients regardless of their wealth, religion, life or personality.”


Born in Rock Island on April 13, 1922, to John J. and Mary Ann Boyle Cunningham, he married Florence McDonald on July 12, 1947, at St. Catherine of Siena Catholic Church in Oak Park. Their marriage would span five decades.

He was a U.S. Army veteran who served during World War II. Cunningham graduated from St. Ambrose College, Davenport, in 1942; Stritch School of Medicine, Chicago, in 1945; and served his internship at Cook County Hospital from 1945 to 1946.

He was a former president of the medical staff at St. Anthony Hospital in Rock Island and continued on the medical staff at Franciscan Hospital, currently Unity Point Health-Trinity Rock Island.

Cunningham retired in 1990 but continued to be active in issues relating to medical ethics and the Catholic faith. His lifetime of service to the Catholic Medical Association was recognized in 2015 when the organization named him in the first group to receive its “Distinguished Guardian of the Faith” award.

He served as the group’s president from 1966 to 1967, when it was then known as the National Federation of Catholic Physicians Guilds, and was a consultant to the president for many years thereafter.

He was a co-founder and president emeritus of the St. Thomas Aquinas Guild of the Quad Cities, a chartered guild of the Catholic Medical Association. The guild placed a poster at his visitation that included quotes from seven area physicians calling him a “true role model for us all” and “a great personification of Christ the Healer,” among other tributes.

His support of the Catholic Church and its teachings led Pope John Paul II to name him a Knight of St. Gregory the Great and the Diocese of Peoria to bestow upon him its Pere Marquette Award.

Survivors include his children, Dr. Patrick (Jane) Cunningham of Rock Island, Gregory (Janaan) Cunningham of Franklin, Wisconsin, Kathleen Yeager of Rock Island, and James Cunningham of Rock Island; six grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

Among those preceding him in death were his wife and four siblings, including Msgr. Ambrose Cunningham.

Entombment was at Calvary Cemetery, Rock Island. Memorials may be made to St. Pius X Parish, Alleman High School, or Jordan Catholic School, all of Rock Island.

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