Interview with Sr. Mary Finn

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?

Founding of Sisters, Home Visitors of Mary

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!


I would like on my tombstone: “May she rest in peace ­ after one more stop.”


Editor’s note:  If you would like to read more about the history of Sisters Home Visitors of Mary, visit the History and Nigeria pages on this web site.




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Carry Easter Joy to Others

Carry the Good News of Easter Joy to Others

After telling a class of small children of Jesus’ appearance to Mary Magdalene, I told them to draw the Scripture story.  One little boy drew a stick figure and two little circles at the bottom of the page.  I asked hem to explain his drawing.  He said, “Mary was so happy to see Jesus, she jumped out of her shoes.”

This small child caught the message of Easter.

Easter has several favorite Scripture words.

 ~The women hurried away from the tomb half over-joyed and half-fearful; they ran to carry the good news to the disciples. 

 ~On entering the tomb, John saw and believed. 

 ~Jesus greets his disciples with “Peace be with you.”

 ~Even though you do not see Him, you believe and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy.

Ponder your Easter words in your heart.  Carry them forth with joy to others.

A happy and Joyous Easter!   

 Sr. Barbara, HVM

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Injuries to Sr. Elizabeth

March 23, 2017.

We are sorry to inform that Sr. Elizabeth Harris suffered serious bone fractures and other injuries in being struck by a car while crossing a street in Abuja, Nigeria.  After emergency care in Abuja she was transported back to Detroit where she is currently undergoing treatment at Receiving Hospital in Detroit.

Please keep Sr. Elizabeth in your thoughts and prayers.

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Tea and Art For Gods’ Sake

shvm-father-mechAn overflow audience at Sisters Home Visitors of Mary convent listened in rapt attention to a lively presentation by Father J.J. Mech, Rector of the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament, on February 19, 2017.   “Art for God’s Sake” was a recurring theme of Father Mech at this SHVM fundraising Tea.  Father Mech is deeply traveled and highly educated in the arts.  He once served as chaplain for the Patron of the Arts for the Vatican.   Father Mech explained how art and prayer are surprisingly intertwined and supportive … both providing a route to better communion with God.


Father J.J. Mech


With a little help from a friend!

HVM Sisters Rosemarie Abate and Barbara Dakoske introduced the audience to Home Visitors of Mary missions and needs in Detroit and Nigeria.  All attendees enjoyed tea, snacks and beautiful deserts provided by HVM supporters.


Sr. Rosemarie Abate


Sr. Barbara Dakoske

A special treat for all was the unexpected arrival of Mr. Dennis Pillon in a beautiful 1911 Ford Model T.  See photo below.  Mr. Pillon visited from the nearby Ford Piquette Plant and Museum.  The Piquette Plant is the birthplace of the Model T – by far the most influential  car of the 20th century.  The Model T was entirely designed at the Piquette Plant and was first produced there before the much larger Highland Park assembly plant was built.  Check out the Ford Piquette Plant web site for information on public tours of the plant.


1911 Ford Model T


Mr. Dennis Pillon


Audience Front View


Audience Rear View


Audience Overflow


Tea, snack & deserts


Door prize for lucky attendee


Young budding artist #1


Young budding artist #2


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Welcoming newcomers is an Act of Love

vigneronAllen H. Vigneron, Archbishop of Detroit, issued a statement on January 28 affirming his opposition to faith-based restrictions to immigration and expressing his support for and solidarity with Muslim leaders in Southeast Michigan.  In response, the co-chair of the Imams Council of the Michigan Muslim Community Council, Imam Steve Elturk, has thanked the archbishop and the entire Detroit archdiocese “…for standing by the Muslims during such trying times.”

Archbishop Vigneron wrote …

“Dear Friends,

I wrote to you a little over a year ago to share with you my statement to the priests of our Archdiocese regarding a proposal made during the presidential campaign to restrict Muslim immigration to the United States.  At that time, I reaffirmed my commitment to stand with you in opposing any and all unjust discrimination on the basis of religion.

Today, I reaffirm that pledge.

Now that a federal government restriction has been placed upon refugees from mainly Muslim countries, I want to bring to your attention, and affirm my solidarity with, a January 27 statement made in Washington, D.C., by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.  Stating strong disagreement with the Executive Order, the bishops say “We believe in assisting all those who are vulnerable and fleeing persecution, regardless of their religion… welcoming newcomers and refugees is an act of love and hope.”  Additionally, I call to your attention to a December 9, 2016 statement given by me: “We stand with our immigrant brothers and sisters.”

Please know that the Catholic community will continue to speak out and care for immigrants and refugees, no matter their religion or their country of origin.  As I said in my statement last month: “Our local community in metro-Detroit is much richer for the contributions of our brothers and sisters from Mexico and El Salvador, from India and Pakistan, from Iraq and Syria, from China and Korea, from Ukraine and Poland, from Cameroon and Nigeria.”

Let us continue to stand together for the common good here in metro-Detroit.

Sincerely yours,

Allen H. Vigneron

Archbishop of Detroit”

Sisters Home Visitors of Mary have since their inception advocated for newly arriving individuals without regard to race or origin, setting aside the sometimes-all-to-popular prejudices of the current day, knowing that God’s Love includes all people including strangers and migrants and refugees.  (See Sr. Rosemarie’s Christmas message.)

Might you volunteer?

The Southwest Detroit Immigrant and Refugee Center is one organization serving migrants in our very diverse metro Detroit area. SWIRC seeks volunteers to assist with the pro bono legal services they provide.  Volunteers are needed for translation and preparation of cases.   Contact Sr. Rosemarie to see how you might help care for our brothers and sisters seeking life.

Might your parish organization in southeast MI be interested in an educational reflection on immigration?  Contact Sr. Rosemarie for details.

Check out US Conference of Catholic Bishops or Latin American Working Group for other news on immigration issues.


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Prayers for New Year

Daily Prayer for National Unity and Healing

God of wisdom and mercy, grant us patience to listen; compassion to be open to other views and opinions; generosity to forgive and grace to change. As you taught us to love our neighbor, compel us to be healing instruments of unity and reconciliation. We pray that you give us strength as we encourage our nation to move forward in unity. Amen.

mlk-jrJanuary 16, 2017, is Martin Luther King Jr. Day in the US, celebrating the life of one of America’s greatest moral heroes.

Just four days later on January 20 a new administration is inaugurated in Washington DC.  The Sisters of St. Joseph have created and shared a calendar called “100 Days of Prayer” in keeping with the new administration’s first 100 days in office.

In 12 words or less each day the prayers encourages unity and reconciliation and offer support to people who may be vulnerable to policy changes.  Here is the first installment for January:


January 20.  For guidance for our elected officials to make decisions that respect human dignity.

January 21.  All join together to abolish racism, sexism and extremism. <link>

 January 22.  For our personal commitment to make changes that protect our Earth.  <link>

 January 23.  For a political commitment to address the root causes of migration.

 January 24.  That we seek to build bridges amongst our diverse communities.

 January 25.  That we hold elected leaders accountable to protect our vulnerable communities.

 January 26.  For the support and solidarity of refugees who are forced to abandon their homes.

 January 27.  For equal education for all children.  <link>

January 28.  For the future of health care coverage for the poor.  <link>

January 29.  To recognize and affirm acts of kindness.

January 30.  That global trade decisions protect our Earth and natural resources.

January 31.  Guide our leaders that they respect the rights of those they represent.


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Christmas Reflection from Nigeria

Dear Sisters, Associates, Friends, and Benefactors,

My reflection during this season of Advent is: Lord, make us more aware.

Map Abuja to GwagwaladaGreetings from Nigeria.   It has been long since we communicated. I do hope all is well with you. I am well and now living mainly in Gwagwalada at our Formation House. I am here to fill in for Sr. Winifred who is away this year for training for Sister Formation 200 miles away in Jos.

Here at our Formation House is so different from the Garki district in Abuja being relatively quiet. We are a Community of six including one second year Novice- Chioma Susan and one candidate –Blessing. These two women are now my responsibility.

So much has transpired since I left Detroit last year. You in the U.S. had your Election for President – electing Donald Trump. God only knows the implications for international relations let alone on the domestic scene. There were almost simultaneous elections here.

Again, the recession that has followed is devastating to the middle and lower economic strata. People are really suffering hardship. Together with this is the influx of immigrants from areas that suffer from suicide bombers and real massacres of farmers versus the cattle men. Some whole villages have been destroyed in retaliation for killing of cows that were destroying farms. Survivors are flooding into places like Abuja, Adding to this is the Middle East crisis. Is there a full scale war on the Horizon?

prince-of-peaceIndeed we need the “Prince of Peace” now, more than ever. May this Christmas unite your prayers to ours for understanding, reconciliation, respect for human life and the dignity of life.

Lord, make us more aware. You sent your beloved Son to change the course of history through his life of Grace by which your own Spirit has come to live your life within us. You have adopted us to be your children through your son and our brother Jesus.

Make us to love and honour your presence in the people you have created. Father, free our hearts of bigotry, hatred, anger, fear, and the need to retaliate. Give us grace to imitate the model you have given us in Jesus, WHO SHOWED US BY A LIFE POURED OUT WHAT IT MEANS TO BE YOUR TRUE SONS AND DAUGHTERS. Give us your SPIRIT to break down walls, demolish barriers, open dialogue, speak the truth and embrace in true brother/sisterhood. Amen

Have a blessed and joy filled Holiday.

Love and Prayer,

Sr. Elizabeth Harris

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