Father Xavier Cooney SVD, a missionary who served in Papua New Guinea and Appalachia, died at age 79 from complications of COVID-19 at Glenbrook Hospital in Glenview, Ill., on Feb. 11.
Born in Pittsburgh, Patrick Joseph Cooney was the third of Brigid (nee Lynskey) and Patrick Cooney Sr.’s five children. He entered the Society of the Divine Word at Conesus, N.Y., in 1959 and professed religious vows in 1962. When he professed perpetual vows in 1968, he took the name Xavier.
For his first assignment, Brother Xavier was sent to Papua New Guinea to work in the Alexishafen carpentry shop. Three years later, he traveled up the coast to begin training as a pilot. Over the decades, Divine Word Missionaries had developed Wirui Air Service (WAS) to transport supplies and people to missions that were difficult to reach by land.
After a year, Brother Xavier attended Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Ill., to complete his aviation education. With an FAA Airframe and Powerplant (A&P) mechanic license in hand, he went back to Wewak, Papua New Guinea, and worked at WAS from 1975 to 1979. During that time, he again put his carpentry skills to use. In addition to work as an aviation mechanic, he helped construct a new hangar.
Many years later, when the Society of the Divine Word sold the airport, an official assessor inspected the hangar and declared it the best built airport hangar in Papua New Guinea.
By the end of the 1970s, Brother Xavier began to hear the call to the missionary priesthood. He was assigned to the Papua New Guinea Highlands for pastoral experience before beginning studies at St. Paul’s Seminary in Kensington, Australia.
He was ordained in 1983 and was assigned to Kundiawa town parish in Papua New Guinea’s central, mountainous region, where he provided pastoral care until he was transferred to the Chicago Province in 1989.
In the United States, Father Cooney provided pastoral care in Webster Springs, Welch and Summersville, W. Vir. He spent 18 years at St. John the Evangelist in Summersville, traveling a 100-mile radius to care for residents throughout Nicholas County.
With more than 100 registered parishioners, St. John the Evangelist is the largest West Virginia parish staffed by Divine Word Missionaries. This rural parish is the spiritual home of many young families. While there, Father Cooney worked closely with the Knights of Columbus to prepare food baskets for the poor and with the Ladies of St. John’s to collect winter coats.
Each spring, the parish youth group would conduct community fundraisers to earn money to pay for trips to Catholic youth conferences. Throughout the year, the parish would sponsor pro-life billboards and support Special Olympics. Father Cooney also labored to bring Catholic radio to Nicholas County and the surrounding area.
Because of health issues, Father Cooney moved to Techny in 2020. He is survived by two brothers, Martin and John Cooney. His parents and two siblings—Lt. Col. James Cooney and Catherine Quinn—predeceased him.
Father Cooney’s wake will begin at 9 a.m. on Friday, Feb. 19, followed by Mass of the Resurrection at 10:30 a.m. in the chapel of the Divine Word Residence at Techny. Due to COVID-19 protocol, attendance will be limited. Both the wake and funeral will be livestreamed at: https://youtu.be/oWwO0xgfGsM.
In lieu of flowers, memorial donations for the care of elderly and infirm missionaries may be sent to The Rector, Divine Word Residence, P.O. Box 6000, Techny, IL 60082-6000.
The Society of the Divine Word has more than 6,000 members who serve the spiritual and social needs of people in 84 countries.