Limerick native had close links to Tipperary's Rockwell College

Death of ground-breaking humanitarian leader Fr. Jack Finucane

Anne O'Grady

Reporter:

Anne O'Grady

Death of ground-breaking humanitarian leader Fr. Jack Finucane

Fr. Jack Finucane who taught for a period in Rockwell College

Father Jack Finucane, one of Ireland’s leading humanitarians, has passed away yesterday peacefully in Kimmage Manor in Dublin at the age of 80.

Fr Finucane, a lifetime humanitarian, was a leading figure in the growth of Concern Worldwide, guiding the organisation to reaching millions of vulnerable people across the world.

He spent some time teaching in Rockwell College in Tipperary before heading up Concern Worldwide’s work in Bangladesh which had been newly created after the bloody separation of East and West Pakistan.

Speaking about the life of Fr Finucane, CEO of Concern Worldwide, Dominic MacSorley, remarked:"An unassuming leader, he 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.

"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.”

Born in Limerick in 1937 and ordained a priest in 1963, Fr Finucane was sent to Nigeria with the Holy Ghost Fathers and was at the heart of the distribution of aid flown into Biafra by Concern and other relief organisations. Following the surrender of Biafra, he was arrested by the Nigerian authorities and spent several weeks in prison before being deported. He then went to the United States of America where he spent a period in parish Ministry and studied in San Francisco for a Masters in Education.

In 1973, he was posted to Bangladesh, a country he loved and returned to often. But it was the 1984 famine in Ethiopia where Fr Finucane's knowledge of the country, his considerable diplomatic skills enabled Concern to mount a massive response to the crisis. By the time that famine received worldwide attention, Concern had a team of 46 expatriates and 890 national staff on the ground. He was an advisor to Bob Geldof and his Live Aid team. In 1985, he brought a young Bono on his first trip to Ethiopia and the singer has credited him with having a huge influence on his thinking with regard to international development.

In 1994, he witnessed over one million people fleeing from Rwanda into Goma, Zaire, and two years later he saw the same population stream across the border to return home. A powerful driving force, he visited the region almost every month, encouraging and supporting new and innovative resettlement programmes that included supporting hundreds of thousands caught up in horrific prison conditions or reuniting more than 30,000 separated and unaccompanied children.

Fr Finucane formally retired in 2002 but never stopped working for Concern. In 2004, without hesitation, he abandoned all plans for the summer and flew to Sudan to lead Concern’s response to the Darfur crisis and later went on to oversee Concern’s operations in tsunami-affected Sri Lanka. Throughout, he remained passionate and engaged in everything to do with Concern including serving on the board of Concern Worldwide US. 

Active to the end, Fr Finucane walked around Inishturk Island, off the coast of Galway a few weeks ago with 70 Concern volunteers he had worked with over the years. His work will continue and he will remain an inspiration to all of us in the global fight against poverty.