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St. Joseph's Presbytery, Birtley Lane, Birtley, Chester-le-Street DH3 1LJ.

Part of the St Benedict Partnership of Parishes
(Birtley, Chester-le-Street, Easington Lane, Houghton-le-Spring, Penshaw, Sacriston, Washington)

Father Mark Millward: 0191 416 3583, Father Paul Hopper: 0191 410 2923, Father Jim O'Keefe: 0191 416 3805.

Deacon: Peter Lavery
: (0191) 410 2530. Mobile: 07743 807 312. Email:


Local Priest is the new Bishop of Hexham and Newcastle

Pope Benedict XVI has appointed Canon Seamus Cunningham, at former Administrator of the vacant Diocese, to become the 13th Bishop of Hexham and Newcastle.

He was ordained bishop and installed in St Mary’s Cathedral Church, Newcastle at 12 noon on Friday 20th March 2009, the feast of St Cuthbert, patron of the diocese.

Bishop-elect Canon Seamus Cunningham (17Kb)The Bishop-elect, aged 66, has completed almost 43 years priestly service to the Diocese. Born on 7 July 1942 at Castlebar, Co Mayo, Ireland, he was educated at local schools, which included St Nathy’s College, Ballaghaderreen at which Bishop James Cunningham (1957-1974) had also been a student for a short time.

Seamus Cunningham studied for the priesthood at St John’s College, Waterford, where he was ordained priest for the Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle on 12 June 1966.

He began as assistant priest in Our Lady and St Joseph’s parish, Brooms, in North West Durham, from September 1966 until August 1971.

From 1971 – 1972 he was at English Martyrs, Newcastle upon Tyne. Then he spent one year, 1972 – 1973, at the new Corpus Christi College, London, preparing to begin work as a Diocesan Religious Education and Catechetics adviser, he returned to live and work in the Cathedral but also visited our schools throughout the diocese.

In 1978 he succeeded Father Leo Pyle as Director of Religious Education in the diocese and also as Chaplain to St Mary’s Teaching Training College of the Sacred Heart of Education at Fenham.

From 1984 to 1987 he spent three years as Spiritual Director to students for the priesthood at Ushaw College, Durham.

In 1987 he returned to St Mary’s Cathedral where he was to spend the next 10 years as Administrator and Parish Priest. He was appointed to the Chapter of Canons shortly afterwards.

He moved to his present parish of St Oswin’s, Tynemouth and St Mary’s, Cullercoats, in 1988 after a short sabbatical in the States.

Bishop Ambrose Griffiths appointed him one of four Vicars General in 2001.

After his ordination on 25 May 2004, Bishop Kevin Dunn appointed Canon Cunningham as the sole Vicar General. He held this post until the Bishop’s death on 1 March 2008. He was with him and his family throughout his illness and death, and was elected Diocesan Administrator on 2 March 2008.

Such a long, varied and wide experience of pastoral, educational and administrative work throughout the diocese has made him known as a quiet builder of both parish and diocesan communities.

Canon Cunningham said, “Although I was surprised to be asked to undertake this task, I am glad that the diocese will not have to face another change of style within very few years. I hope to start by continuing Bishop Kevin’s initiatives before seeking anew what will be best at this time to meet the many challenges in spreading the Gospel today and working with other church bodies and the civil authorities.”

A bishop is chosen as a shepherd to a local diocese to lead and teach his people. He is appointed as a successor to the Apostles so that he can maintain the faith Jesus Christ passed on to the first Christians and keep the diocese in union with the Pope, who is the successor of Saint Peter, the first bishop of Rome. With the local clergy, a bishop leads the people as a family in the worship God. He also has the task of reaching out beyond the Catholic community to preach and to foster strong links with people of every faith and those of no faith.

The Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle stretches from the Scottish border to Teesside and from the Pennines to the East Coast. It was founded in 1850 and St Mary’s Church in Newcastle was chosen as the new Cathedral. St Mary’s was built in the 1840s during the time of William Riddell, a bishop who looked after the Northern District before the diocese was set up. He died from famine fever, caught while he ministered to the sick. The first bishop of the diocese was William Hogarth and there have been 12 bishops who have led the diocese during the past 158 years.

The diocese sees itself as part of a tradition that stretches back to the great North East saints of the past - Aidan, Cuthbert, Hilda and Bede. Most recently, it was served by Bishop Kevin Dunn, who was very fond of Holy Island and was inspired by the saints of Lindisfarne. He spearheaded the refurbishment of the small Catholic church on the island.

Since then priests and people of the Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle have looked forward to the choosing of a new shepherd to lead them. They welcome Bishop Seamus with joy and congratulate him on his appointment to this historic and deeply faithful diocese, offering him their support, loyalty and prayers.

Newly ordained Bishop Seamus Cunnigham (8Kb)On 20th March 2009, the Feast of St Cuthbert, Canon Seamus Cunningham was ordained Bishop of Hexham and Newcastle Diocese.

After the ceremony the new Bishop and guests attended a reception in the grounds of the Cathedral. Later in the day Bishop Seamus led a celebration of Solemn Vespers for a congregation of over 500 people drawn from across the region. The Cathedral was filled to capacity for both the ordination and the Vespers.