Rev. Walter Cuenin, the long-time Brandeis University Catholic chaplain and coordinator of the Multifaith Chaplaincy, has left Brandeis with little fanfare due to medical reasons.
“The Archdiocese has informed us that Fr. Walter Cuenin’s appointment at Brandeis has ended for health reasons. Out of respect for his privacy we have been asked to not comment further,” wrote Dean of Students Jamele Adams in a recent email to all Brandeis students. Senior Vice President for Students and Enrollment Andrew Flagel responded similarly in an email to The Brandeis Hoot: “The university respects Walter’s privacy, so we will not comment further beyond hoping he is able to return to health.”
Father Cuenin was a popular figure on campus, well-known and beloved by students regardless of their faith. He received his bachelor’s degree from Saint John’s Seminary in 1967 before studying at the Gregorian University in Rome, where he earned a degree in sacred theology in 1969. From there, he was ordained as a priest in 1970. He has worked in many parishes of the Archdiocese of Boston and has taught theology.
“He is a smart and genuine person and one who demonstrates excellent leadership. In his masses, he always made sure to acknowledge and welcome any students, family or staff attending who were of other religions. I think he made a lot of close and irreplaceable connections with the Brandeis community,” said Matthew Chamberlain ’15, in an interview with The Brandeis Hoot. Chamberlain stated that Cuenin inspired him to attend mass every Sunday.
Cuenin had recently gained the support of other students on campus by displaying a large gay pride flag in honor of LGBT History Month. He also lay a pink cloth over the altar to show support during Breast Cancer Month. In an article by The Hoot from October 2014, Cuenin stated that there is “No point to come here and pray if you aren’t actually going to do something in the world.” He stated that he hoped that with the displays, students would be reminded to do just that. “We have to bring our life to the world,” he added. Cuenin also said that he took his role as a confidential resource on campus very seriously, and he hoped that more students would feel welcome to talk with him as a result of the displays.
Cuenin was also known for his annual trip to Rome, the city where he had studied and been ordained. For years, students interested in Italy and the Catholic religion (regardless of their actual declared faith) were encouraged to attend, with Cuenin acting as tour guide. Cuenin had been making arrangements and amassing a group to attend this year, before plans changed. In an email sent to students involved in this year’s Rome trip, Cuenin wrote, “I regret that I have to cancel the Rome trip due to medical issues. I am just not up to doing it this year … I am in a clinic in Michigan for treatment. Prayers please and Happy New Year.”
Chamberlain was one of the students planning to attend the Rome trip this year. “I was interested in the Rome trip mainly because I’ve never been to a foreign country outside of the continent, and it was an incredible opportunity to learn about religion and the culture of Rome. I was most looking forward to the Italian food and the locations we were going to visit,” Chamberlain said. “When I found out it was canceled, I was certainly disappointed, but I was considerably more concerned for Father Cuenin’s well-being. I can only hope for his recovery at this point.”
As stated, Brandeis administration members have refused to comment on the exact circumstances of Cuenin’s illness and departure. This is partly because (as Flagel stated): “Our Catholic chaplain role is an agreement between Brandeis and the Boston Diocese.” When contacted, Cuenin himself did not comment, simply saying: “I don’t think I can [respond to questions] as I am in a clinic in Michigan.”
When asked interview questions, Protestant Chaplain Matt Carriker provided a collective response from the chaplaincy team: “The Brandeis Multifaith Chaplaincy wishes Fr. Cuenin a return to full health. The Division of Student Life is actively engaged in efforts to ensure that the needs of the Catholic Community on campus are met. All of the chaplains are available to the student community for spiritual and pastoral support, through this difficult time and always.”
Brandeis has arranged for Cuenin’s responsibilities to be covered on campus. “As our Catholic Chaplain comes to us from the Archdiocese of Boston, we are working with them and will be meeting with our Catholic parishioners, both students and greater community members, about a process for identifying a new Catholic Chaplain. In the meantime, Sister Marie, who has long worked within our community, is assisting us in making sure Services are available this weekend,” wrote Adams in his email to the student body. “We are continuing to work with the Archdiocese to learn whom will cover Services henceforth. In place of our regular Sunday evening Service in the Bethlehem Chapel, there will be transportation provided to attend Service in Newton.”