SCCCW woman of the year is a ‘model of Gospel living’

HILTON HEAD — Nina McCunniff believes that involvement in parish life is one of the keys to a full spiritual life as a Catholic.  
Her devotion to her home parish, St. Francis by the Sea on Hilton Head, is one of the reasons she was named Catholic Woman of the Year by the South Carolina Council of Catholic Women on April 12 at their 78th annual convention.
She received the award at the convention banquet, and was presented with the Our Lady of Good Counsel Medal. The Lowcountry Deanery also named her as their 2008 Catholic Woman of the Year.  
A native of Michigan, McCunniff spent part of her childhood in West Point, N.Y. She is a graduate of DePauw University in Indiana.  
She said her family moved several times when she was a child because her father was in the U.S. Army. The tradition continued when she married her husband, Tom, who retired from the Army in 1970. The McCunniffs moved to Macon, Ga., first, then settled on Hilton Head in 1982.
McCunniff said she converted to Catholicism in 1950.
“I believe that Catholicism is the fullness of faith, and I love being a Catholic,” she said. “I helped with RCIA at St. Francis for about six years, and I loved doing it because I want to share my faith with others.” She also taught CCD to fourth- and fifth- graders for 20 years, both at St. Francis and her previous parish in Macon.  
She said one of the most important parts of her faith life is the time she takes each morning for prayer. McCunniff uses daily devotionals such as “Living Faith.”  
“I have a devotion to the Holy Spirit, and that’s a big part of my prayer,” she said. “I think it’s very important to start the day with prayer.”  
The McCunniffs are two of the founding members of St. Francis by the Sea Church. She remembers the early years of the parish, which started in 1984, when Masses and other meetings were held in a room at the Crazy Crab restaurant.
“We would have fellowship on a deck overlooking the creek, and you could see dolphins,” she recalled. “Once they started letting us have Mass there, the owners said business boomed.”  
McCunniff served on the formation committee for St. Francis  School, was a school board member for three years, and served on the architectural and design committee for the church building. She also edited “History of St. Francis” for the school library and is co-founder of the Women’s Guild.  
Along with her work in the parish, McCunniff has volunteered with organizations including the Crisis Pregnancy Center and the American Red Cross.  
Sister Kathleen Kane, a Sister of St. Mary of Namur and the pastoral associate at St. Francis, said McCunniff was one of the first people to welcome her when she arrived in 2000.  
“She’s absolutely an inspiration, a model of Gospel living,” Sister Kathleen said. “She’s a shining light in the parish who does everything so well, so willingly and cheerfully.”  
Sister Kathleen said one of the most important jobs McCunniff does for St. Francis is training and scheduling extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist to bring holy Communion to  the sick or homebound.
Also, McCunniff serves on the liturgy committee and coordinates weekly Mass for St. Francis School.  
“She’s a lot of fun, and so is her husband Tom, who often serves as a lector at daily Mass,” Sister Kathleen said. “They come as a team in a lot of ways and support each other.”  
The McCunniffs have three grown children: Kelly, Dennis and Don; 10 grandchildren and a great-grandchild on the way.
McCunniff said besides daily prayer, another important part of her spiritual life is the small group she and her husband belong to at the church.
The parish has more than 1,900 households, so members are encouraged to form small Christian communities where they can get to know each other and share their faith together. McCunniff’s group of about 10 meets weekly to discuss the readings for the next Sunday.  
“By doing that, you get other people’s insights into Scriptures, and it really enhances your understanding,” she said.  
Her advice to other Catholics is to become active in their parishes.
“If you don’t get involved in the parish community, then you don’t feel fulfilled,” she said. “It’s like you’re just dropping in as a visitor when you come to church.”