Tributes have poured in for the late Limerick priest, Fr Jack Finucane, who passed away last week at the age of 80. Alongside his elder brother and fellow priest Aengus, Fr Jack was instrumental in humanitarian relief efforts such as providing thousands of tons of food during the Nigerian famine in Biafra during the 1960s.
One of six children, Fr Finucane was born in 1937 and was later ordained in 1963 following his study in the seminary. An avid lover of sport, especially hurling and football, he was assigned a post in Nigeria with the Holy Ghost Fathers following his ordination. However, his Irish roots accompanied him throughout his life, a sentiment expressed by Bishop Brendan Leahy who said, “Despite leaving Limerick at the age of 18, Limerick never left him. He remained at all times in touch with what was going on here, not least on the sporting front.”
He later studied in San Francisco for a Masters in Education and eventually returned to Ireland to spend some time at Rockwell College where he was Dean of the Catering School.
Not only did Fr Finucane remain a prominent figure in Ireland, but he was also influential in aiding the starving population of a war-torn Biafra during the 1960s, using his diplomatic skills to help the NGO Concern in responding to the crisis. “In his deeds, he was a hero in that he dedicated his life to protecting and defending the weakest people on our planet,” said Bishop Leahy, adding that, “there is no greater Christian calling and he took it up selflessly and courageously, often putting his safety at great risk but also completely indifferent to that risk.”
Following the defeat of Biafra, Fr Finucane was captured and arrested by the Nigerian authorities, spending three weeks incarcerated for his life-saving actions. This period of imprisonment, however, did not deter him from his humanitarian efforts as he continued to engage with poverty and injustice in Ethiopia, by, for example, advising Live Aid’s Bob Geldof and bringing Bono to the impoverished country in 1985.
In admiration of his work, President Michael D. Higgins stated: “His commitment to the ethical basis for, as well as the practical application of humanitarian principles was exemplary. Jack Finucane’s lifelong commitment to protecting the dignity of some of the world’s poorest and most marginalised people will stand not only as a lasting tribute to all that is good about mankind, but is exemplary in its invitation not to avert our gaze from our current challenges of global hunger and poverty.”
The Biafra aid campaign that he was so closely involved in led to the establishing of Concern Worldwide, of which he was a regional director until he retired in 2002.
Throughout this time, he responded to world-wide emergencies such the Rwandan genocide in 1994 by visiting the city almost monthly and supporting resettlement programmes for the thousands of people who were imprisoned, or for unaccompanied children traumatised by the conflict. Indeed, his enduring commitment was such that he even returned to Sudan to alleviate the famine pandemic after his retirement.
Concern Worldwide CEO Dominic MacSorley described him as “an unassuming leader” who “brought intelligence, drive and passion to what is now Ireland’s leading humanitarian and development organisation”.
“Along with his brother, Aengus, they were a bridge between Ireland’s long tradition of missionary work defining contemporary humanitarian response characterised by professional, practical, compassionate solutions on the ground. Together, they brought a nation with them.”
He further remarked: “What Jack has achieved may never be fully quantified but he has saved and improved the lives of millions of people caught up in crisis and poverty. Sorely missed, he leaves behind a legacy of incredible humanitarian significance.”
Fr Finucane remained deeply committed to his faith throughout his life, devoted to the Christian message of helping one’s neighbour, able to balance his faith with the secular identity of Concern. He touched the lives of millions of people, and even towards the end, Fr Finucane walked with 70 Concern volunteers he had worked with over his lifetime, around the coast of Galway a few weeks ago.
In admiration of Finucane’s social justice pursuits, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Charlie Flanagan TD said: “In Bangladesh, Ethiopia and Rwanda, and indeed, in his work with Live Aid, he saved many lives and inspired others to join the struggle for global justice.” He continued saying: “His legacy will endure in the work of the organisation he helped to found, Concern Worldwide. And his example will continue to inspire all those who champion the cause of global development.”
He died suddenly last Wednesday in Kimmage Manor where he had been attending a retreat. His life is one that few could emulate, and his story will continue to inspire and embolden the millions of lives that he touched.