Born in Detroit in 1930, William T. Cunningham began his studies for the priesthood at Sacred Heart Seminary and continued them at St. John’s Provincial Seminary. Ordained in 1955, he was a parish priest for five years, and was a founding member of the Archbishop’s Commission on Human Relations. He joined the faculty of Sacred Heart Seminary as an English teacher in 1961. For eight years, Fr. Cunningham was a columnist and book review editor of the Michigan Catholic. In 1969 he was named pastor of the Church of the Madonna in Detroit, and had served six years as a Vicar and six years as a Consultor for the Archdiocese of Detroit.
As a young priest, Father William T. Cunningham marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and preached eloquently against “the malignancy of racism.” In 1968, Fr. Cunningham and Eleanor Josaitis founded Focus: HOPE. It came into being after the city’s devastating 1967 riots. With an interracial band of volunteers, Fr. Cunningham and Josaitis worked to bring the black and white communities together and prevent another riot.