The interview of Sr. Mary Finn below appears in the Spring 2017 issue of Mosaic, the campus magazine of Sacred Heat Major Seminary. Sr. Mary Finn has taught at the seminary for more than 50 years. Her interview responses still have the vibrant joy and passion of the young lady who first found her way from the East Side of Detroit to the Sisters, Home Visitors of Mary.
The year is 1934, and Mary Finn comes into the world. What was your family situation like?
My sweet mother, Mary O’Hara, was Chicago-Irish. My Dad was raised Catholic in the farm country of Northern Ireland. Daddy was a Detroit streetcar motor man on the Gratiot line in the l930s through the ’50s. Grandpa O’Hara almost every day during our pre-school years bundled the three little Finn girls, Pat, Marge, and me, into a red wagon to visit our Glenfield-Gratiot neighborhood on the east side of Detroit. Every storekeeper and front porch family and beer garden patron met and loved Grandpa and the Finn sisters.
So you grew up in a Catholic environment?
Our neighborhood was a 1940s mix of many ethnic and religious cultures. We loved every aspect of neighborhood life at St. David Parish: the priests and Sisters of St Joseph, daily liturgy, crushes on altar boys at Thursday night holy hours, sleeping through family rosary, sodality dances; and teaching catechism.
I’ve read that you were a pretty good athlete.
In seventh grade, newly-ordained Father Schoenherr [later Bishop] invited me to play and coach the CYO parish girls’ basketball and fast pitch softball team. If there had been honors for girl players and coaches in those days, I would have received the best! My batting average in four years of high school was 800! That was reported in the Detroit Times in the spring of 1952.
When did you first feel a call to a religious vocation?
In eighth grade, in 1948, Father Schoenherr gave a retreat on the three encyclicals of Pope Pius XII, Mystici Corporis, Divino Afflante Spiritu, and Mediator Dei. They became the three guiding stars of my young faith and undeveloped vocation. “Under the influence,” so to speak, of Father Schoenherr, I was receiving my vocation.
What is the charism of the Home Visitors of Mary? Why did you feel moved to enter the community?
The Home Visitors o f Mary was founded on November 21, 1949, at an abandoned North End St. George Parish, by Cardinal Edward Mooney and Msgr. John Ryan who was on the faculty of Sacred Heart Seminary, and lay women ministers Mary Schutz and Mary Agnes McGinnis. We were founded as an urban sisterhood to visit and welcome Black families moving into white Catholic parishes.
When I was in tenth grade, Sister Mary and Sister Mary Agnes gave vocation talk at St. David High School. Without telling anyone, I knew then: “That is who I will be … a Home Visitor … in the body of Christ in the city.”
What happened then?
A few months after high school, on August 15, 19 52, on the feast of the Assumption of Mary, I “set out and traveled” to follow Mary in the Gospel of Luke from the east side to the north end of Detroit [the term for area just north of Grand Boulevard], to 356 Arden Park, where I became a HVM postulant, then novice, then professed sister.
“Under the influence” of Sister Mary and Sister Mary Agnes and each other, we continued to grow in wisdom and prayer and works of mercy. But Jesus is the original “home visitor.”
What arc some memorable experiences doing ministry in the inner city?
Every day and every person in our Holy City is a memorable experience.
One of our North End ministries during the late ’60s and early ’70s was the Catholic Center, in an abandoned Jewish grocery store. Each young man who came to the center was my life-teacher.
One young man, Glen, came up missing and was found dead. I went to “visit” Glen at the funeral home. That night when I stood before Glen’s casket with Pat and Tyrone, with Ollie called “Chicken” and Eddie called “Preacher,” I saw the Body of Christ under the appearance of the murdered Glen.
That night I prayed and I knew: In the daily Liturgy, Jesus is lifting up our broken city of Detroit and claiming, “This city is my Body.” During all of these years, I am looking at the city and I see the Body of Christ. Detroit is the city of my birth and vocation, and it is daily grace and Eucharist for me.
You have a BA in sociology and two masters degrees, in theology from Marquette and religious anthropology from Duquesne. Was it typical for HVM sisters to be sent for higher education back in the 1960s?
After novitiate, every Home Visitor went immediately to Marygrove College not to teach but to “learn and be changed.”
What are the circumstances of you being hired at Sacred Heart in the late 1960s, right after earning your degree from Duquesne?
I was invited by Fr. Ed Farrell, who was on the faculty at Sacred Heart and was confessor at our house to lead his Charles de Foucauld fraternity meeting with the undergraduate seminarians. I eventually began to teach his spirituality course and gave class retreats and co-taught with Father various parish and diocesan events on prayer.
Fr. Ted Ozog was the rector. He gave me a room, an office, and courses to teach. He asked Bishop Schoenherr if I could oversee the seminarians’ apostolic ministry placement ”just for one year” until they found a replacement. The rest is history!
You are in your fifth decade of pastoral formation of seminarians. Has your formational approach changed through the years?
Yes, every day. I am more changed by them.
We are growing in to a new freedom where we are able to talk about racism more openly. The inclusion of so many Chaldean seminarians has changed us. It has changed our understanding of the Middle East; we are being changed by Chaldean prayer, liturgy, and family table, especially by enjoying meals in Chaldean homes.
I can’t forget my eighth grade conversation with God, that “I am not a teacher or a nurse.” During all of these years of being a teacher, Jesus takes me back to happily visit these early discernments. Every Home Visitor is a teacher and continues to receive the gift of teaching back from each student.
Did you intend to remain at Sacred Heart this long? Were there any times when you almost left?
I continue to “receive my vocation” and appointment from our Home Visitor community and the seminary. I have never “not wanted” to be here.
For all of these years, I have thoroughly enjoyed my ministry at the seminary. I will stay here as long as the seminarians and lay students can be the “home visitors.” [Sister Finn trains seminarians to go into the homes of neighbors and in nursing homes as ministers of Holy Communion.]
What are some important advisements you have given seminarians through the years?
“Live under the influence” of Jesus. “Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus.” Often we live under the influence of fear. But we have a call to live under Jesus. But that does not exclude fear. Jesus was afraid.
It is the gift of the Holy Spirit, to look at another person, to receive the gift of “looking” and ” receiving.”
An example. Last week in a suburb after a funeral, I went in to a Rite Aid store. I came out and a man was getting out of his car next to me. He was a black man in a white suburb. I purposely made the decision to “look” at him as I was going from the store to the car. It ended up we knew each other from the North End – and we prayed with each other! “Oh, Jesus, you have got to come on this lady!” he p rayed. Right in front of the Rite Aid. The parking lot became a “sanctuary.”
Take our Halloween outreach. It is not about how much candy we give out or how many children come that determines “success.” It depends on whether or not something deep down within me has been changed about how I see a neighbor.
You have done so much ministry work beyond your duties at the seminary. Is there one you would like to cite as noteworthy to your vocational calling?
Befriending strangers. By “looking” at the stranger, like the man at the Rite Aid.
Is this the essence of your spirituality?
The essence of my spirituality is the other person. Jesus and the other person.
Any thoughts about retirement?
I will be eighty-three this year. I am having too much fun! I regularly look at the horizon looking for retirement – and I don’t see it yet. I keep looking. I don’t see it anywhere!
HOW WOULD YOU LIKE TO BE REMEMBERED?
I would like on my tombstone: “May she rest in peace after one more stop.”