First Posted: 7/18/2013
The Rev. Michael Finn was in the Holy Land and all he could think about was home.
“I stood in Bethlehem and concelebrated Midnight Mass at the place of birth,” he said. “I also was present at the Holy Sepulcher at Easter. But I missed the parish life so much. That’s when it really hit. That’s when I knew, in case I ever had any doubts, that parish life was for me. It was one of the few times I’ve ever felt lonely.”
And after 37 years of ministering to parishes throughout the state, Finn returned home to Greater Pittston to take the reins at St. Barbara’s.
On July 23, parishioners of St. Barbara’s Parish of Exeter said goodbye to the Congregation of the Oblates of St. Joseph after it served the people of St. Anthony of Padua Parish since 1930 and the St. Barbara Parish since 2011.
Finn had heard the Oblates were leaving St. Barbara’s and he wrote a letter to the Diocese asking for the transfer.
“I never picked anything until I came here,” he said. “I wanted to come home.”
His tenure began on July 7. His family, he said, was the main reason he asked for the assignment.
“I though it was time to watch the next generation grow up,” he said.
He missed the first generation of nieces and nephews growing up because he was always stationed in distant places. “They would get a gift from Uncle Michael for a birthday or Christmas and that was about it.”
“I now have 6 grand nieces and grand nephews and I want to be part of their life,” he said.
Finn, 63, was born March 1, 1950, in Pittston, the son of the late Patrick and Sally McLane Finn. He has five brothers and sisters, Ann Teresa Engleman, Kathleen Masulis, Trish Medico, Edward and Gordon Finn.
He attended Pittston City schools and was a 1968 graduate of Pittston Area High School.
Finn was sent to St. Mary’s College in St. Mary, Kentucky, for one year until he was moved to St. Pius X Seminary in Dalton while attending the University of Scranton (“Da U” as he called it) and completing a degree in theology/religious studies.
He then attended Christ the King Seminary at St. Bonaventure University, and moved with the Seminary to East Aurora, N.Y. for his masters of divinity in systematic theology.
He was ordained May 7, 1977.
His first assignment had him in rural Shohola, Lackawaxen and Greeley in Pike County.
“I remember Bishop McCormick said to me: ‘Oh, Father Finn, do you need a map?’ I said you bet your life I do! It was in the middle of nowhere. Even the bear couldn’t find it.”
He’s had several other assignments since his ordination, including St. Matthew’s in East Stroudsburg, Our Lady of the Snows in Clarks Summit, Holy Child Church in Mansfield, St. Catherine’s in Moscow and St. Thomas Moore in Lake Ariel.
“I remember gasoline at 29 cents per gallon, cigarettes at 25 cents a pack, hamburgers at Top Spot for 10 cents,” he wrote in a new letter to his congregation. “Yes, I am a senior, but love what I do and am honored to be the pastor of St. Barbara’s Parish.”
Good to be home
Now that he’s back home, Finn hopes to indulge a bit. Tony’s Pizza, lunches at Agolino’s and Blue Ribbon ice cream are all things he plans to enjoy.
“I used to drive from Moscow just for Tony’s Pizza,” he said.
Not too much ice cream, his doctors say.
He warned his congregation, “no candy or sweets” because he is diabetic. Also, he is unable to kneel or genuflect because of serious problem with his knee. Additionally he has four stents in his heart.
“I’m good for someone my age and weight,” he said. “But I did have an artery shaped like the French grand prix.”
“And you will see a lot of ‘bowing’ by me, no genuﬂecting! I do not want you to think that I am disrespectful in worship, but since I do not like pain, I will bow. I do not believe that pain that can be avoided is redemptive.”
He said he’s had a little difficulty adjusting to the new parish. For his first Mass he was a half-hour early, and his second Mass he was late.
“I was running down the aisle,” he laughed. “They were ready to start without me.”
Also, he was confused by the church having seven entrance doors. “In case of fire, everybody pick a door,” he joked. He said the first week he forgot to lock the automatic door for the handicapped. “A squirrel could have come in.”
One new thing he is happy about is having a maintenance man, Bob Borell and his son, Brandon, in the summer. He’s already been locked out of his room and the rectory.
“It’s good to have someone to call,” he said.
The shape of church is new to him, too.
“For the last 19 years I’ve been in ‘fan churches’ … new churches,” he said. “It doesn’t go back as far, it goes wide. I like that because you can see everybody. I didn’t miss a trick. Now you have to have binoculars on to see the people in the back.”
Sense of humor
Finn’s hearty laugh and genuine sense of humor make him a good fit for St. Barbara’s. “Humor gets me through everything,” he said.
Early in his priesthood, Finn took a sabbatical. He spoke fondly of his trip to the Holy Land. He spent one academic year there in the 1980s, but made many friends from around the world.
He shared a story about how a young man, Nazeeh, asked him if he was a Republican or a Democrat.
“Well you have to understand, I’m Irish, I’m Catholic. I’m a Democrat,” Finn said. “And with open arms he hugged me.”
At the time, former President Carter was trying to work out a peace proposal between the Palestinians and the Jews.
“I didn’t have the heart to tell him I was a Reagan Democrat,” Finn laughed. “Thanks be to God for once in my life, I kept my mouth shut.”
But after that, people would acknowledge me who wouldn’t before. The word got out he was Democrat and he was acceptable among the Palestinian community.
In his time in the Holy Land, he visited the Negev Desert in Southern Israel, Galilee and Cairo.
“I sat in a classroom, the instructor would talk about the temple where Jesus was speaking and it was right over there, 100 yards away,” Finn said. “It was very spiritual.”
His first bazaar
St. Barbara’s annual bazaar concludes tonight and Finn has never been pastor of a church that had one.
“The work that goes into this. God bless them,” he said. “The volunteers haven’t stopped since I’ve been here. It’s amazing.”
One dish Father Finn likely won’t try is the church’s famous tripe.
“I saw a sign that said ‘tripe’ and I laughed,” he said. “You have got to be kidding me. I like tuna, Charlie, from the can.”
He said it’s great to see former parishioners from three churches work together.
“It’s wonderful to see,” he said. “These bazaars are great for the spirit of the parish.”
But, Finn said, changes are in St. Barbara’s future.
“It’s now a one-man parish,” he said. “We need to learn to operate this parish with one priest, which means masses have to be cut.”
He said the Saturday morning mass will likely be the first to go. Catholic priests are allowed to preside over two Masses a day, except on Sunday. If there is a funeral and he continued the Saturday morning Mass, he wouldn’t be able to do the popular Saturday evening Mass.
He said he plans to consult with parishioners before any changes are finalized.
“We need to grow the organizations here and have them take over some of the responsibilities and increase the work the laity do,” he said. “Mens’s club, ladies club, all the liturgical ministers, buildings and grounds.”
He said six Masses each weekend are too many. In the past this parish had as many as 5 priests and a brother at one time. “But now there’s only me, so we have to make some sacrifices.”
He asks the parish for patience.
“I hope they bear with me,” he said. “They feel bad about it and my heart goes out to them, but it has to happen. I think they realize that. They’re very faithful people. I want to let them know I’m not the enemy coming in from outside. I’m a local who understand their concerns and I’m trying to work with it.”