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Born: 18 February 1909, Glasgow, Lanarkshire, Scotland
Entered: 01 September 1927, St Stanislaus College, Tullabeg, County Offaly
Ordained: 31 July 1941, Milltown Park, Dublin
Final Vows: 02 February 1945, Sacred Heart College SJ, Limerick
Died: 07 March 2011, St Francis Xavier's, Upper Gardiner Street, Dublin
Early education at St Macartan's College, Monaghan
Tertianship at Rathfarnham
by 1927 at Berchmanskolleg, Pullach, Germany (GER S) studying ?
by 1956 at St Albert’s Seminary, Ranchi, India (RAN) teaching
by 1976 at Nantua, Ain, France (GAL) working
by 1979 at Belley, France (GAL) working
◆ Jesuits in Ireland : https://www.jesuit.ie/news/fin-again/
The country, the Society of Jesus, the Irish Province and the Gardiner Street community combined beautifully and joyously to celebrate the first Irish Jesuit to reach the venerable age of one hundred years. Forty Jesuits gathered on 18 February to toast Proinsias O Fionnagain, our “great gift of grace”, as Derek Cassidy, Superior of the Gardiner Street community, said in his warm, welcoming words. What were the messages and gifts? Read more: President Mary McAleese sent a moving letter and a cheque which topped €2500. From Derek Cassidy a card for one hundred Masses. Fr Provincial read a letter from Fr General who mentioned, among many compliments and accomplishments, the fact that Frank’s piano playing has not led to arthritic fingers. John Dardis also read from a poem composed by Fr Tom McMahon before he died, for this special milestone in Frank’s life and the life of the Province. Then the man himself spoke: in Engliish, Irish, French and Latin we heard lovely lines from St Paul and Cardinal Newman. The emotions must have been bubbling away inside, but the voice, apart from a faltering pause, was clear and strong. Then a lovely surprise: Mrs Bridie Ashe and her staff (who pulled out all the stops with the balloons, banners and photos all over the house of Frank wearing the Lord Mayor’s chain of office) presented a beautiful sculpture of St Ignatius, brought from Spain.
The beginning was memorable. All forty diners were upstanding when Frank made his entrance, led by Tom Phelan playing the bagpipes. Tears were wiped from eyes as the musical melody harmonised the room, and Frank took his place between Derek Cassidy and John Dardis, and opposite his nephew who had flown in from Berlin for the party. Next month there will be another celebration for family. Finegan, fin, the end, is again and again and fin-again!
Our first centenarian, An t-Athair Ó Fionnagáin
Wednesday 18 February sees a unique birthday. For the first time an Irish Jesuit has turned a hundred. In the face of Fr Proinsias Ó Fionnagáin you see a man prone to gratitude, with a wardrobe full of memories: of a Spartan early life in Monaghan during World War I; of noviciate in Tullabeg – Frank is the last survivor of that house. He was a teacher of classics in Crescent, Galway and Clongowes; and of philosophy in Ranchi, India. He is a writer, pianist, historian, archivist and librarian, and by his researches contributed heavily to the beatification of Dominic Collins. In 1975, as he qualified for the old age pension, he volunteered for the French mission, and dressed in beret and clergyman served two under- priested areas, Nantua and Belley, for seven years before returning to research and the Irish Mass in Gardiner Street. We thank God, as Frank himself does, for the blessings of his first hundred years.
Jesuit who taught saint turns 101
The Jesuit priest who taught Saint Alberto Hurtado English, Fr Frank Finnigan SJ, celebrated his 101st birthday on Thursday 18 February. He is the first Irish Jesuit to live to such an age. As well as receiving the birthday wishes of his fellow Jesuits in the Gardiner St Community, he also got a congratulatory telegram and cheque from President McAleese. Fr Finnegan’s student Alberto Hurtado was a Chilean Jesuit who died in 1952 and was canonised on 23 October 2005. After joining the Jesuits he came to Ireland and stayed with the Jesuits in Rathfarnham where Fr Finnigan taught him (July-. Fr Finnegan is a fluent Irish speaker. Also, he was a teacher of classics in Crescent, Galway and Clongowes, and a teacher of philosophy in Ranchi, India. He is a writer, pianist, historian, archivist and librarian. His researches contributed heavily to the beatification of Dominic Collins.
Oldest-ever Irish Jesuit goes to God
Yesterday, 7 March, Fr Proinsias Ó Fionnagáin died peacefully in his room in Gardiner Street. Last month he had been touched and delighted to receive a message from President McAleese, congratulating him on his 102nd birthday. He was the first and only Irish Jesuit to reach 100, and up to recently he thought nothing of walking across the city from Drumcondra to Milltown. In the last few days he had been rising later in the morning. On Sunday he celebrated a public Mass in Irish in Gardiner Street church. Then his strength faded rapidly, and yesterday he went to the Lord peacefully in his own bedroom. While he is remembered by many Irishmen as a teacher of Greek and Latin, he had also given years of his life as a missionary in India and a Curé in France. May he rest in peace.
Interfuse No 145 : Summer 2011
Fr Prionsias Ó Fionnagáin (1909-2011)
18th February1909: Born in Glasgow (Nationality: Irish)
Early education at Castleblaney Boys' School and St. Macartan's Seminary
1st September 1927: Entered the Society at Tullabeg
2nd September 1929: First Vows at Tullabeg
1929 - 1932: Rathfarnham - Studied Classics at UCD
1932 - 1935: Tullabeg - Studied Philosophy
1935 - 1937: Mungret College - Teacher
1937 - 1938: Clongowes Wood College - Teacher
1938 - 1942: Milltown Park - Studied Theology
31st July 1941: Ordained at Milltown Park
1942 - 1943: Tertianship at Rathfarnham
1943 - 1952: Crescent College, Limerick – Teacher (Latin and Greek)
2nd February 1945: Final Vows
1952 - 1954: Clongowes – Teacher (Latin and Greek)
1954 - 1957: St. Albert's College, Ranchi, India - Teaching Philosophy
1957 - 1961: Crescent College – Teacher (Latin and Greek)
1961 - 1973: Leeson Street
1961 - 1973: Writer; Librarian
1962 - 1966: Assistant Eitor of Studies
1973 - 1974: Province Archivist
1974 - 1981: France - Curate in Parishes Nantua and Belley
1981 - 2011: SFX Gardiner Street - Work included assisting in the church; Writer; Librarian; House Historian and, in recent years, Aifreann an Phobail
7th March 2011: Died at Gardiner St
Fr Ó Fionnagáin was delighted to receive a message of congratulation from Her Excellency, President Mary McAleese, on the occasion of his 102nd birthday on February 18th last. In subsequent days he became noticeably weaker and tended to celebrate his Mass later in the day than usual. However this did not prevent him from preparing his sermon and celebrating the Sunday Mass as Gaeilge on the day before he died peacefully in his room.
Obituary by Barney McGuckian
Father Proinsias Ó Fionnagáin died peacefully, aged 102, in his room at St Francis Xavier's, Gardiner Street, on the morning of March 7th, 2011. No other Irish Jesuit had ever reached such a venerable age. In command of all his faculties right up to the end, he had celebrated Aifreann an Phobail the previous morning and preached as Gaeilge as he had been doing for several years. In the last month of his life he was still capable of a full genuflection before the Blessed Sacrament each time he entered and left the omestic Chapel.
Of Monaghan Finegan (the one “n” was significant) farming stock, of which he was intensely proud, he was born in Glasgow on 18th February, 1909 but was taken to Ireland in early infancy. As an alert five-and-a-half year old, he remembered the start of the First World War. He was aware that the "big men were going out to fight”. His First Communion, a couple of years later, took the form of Holy Viaticum, as he was not expected to survive the night! He recalled distinctly his father telling him that the War was over, After early education in Castleblayney he became a boarder at St Macartan's Diocesan College. A thorough grounding in Greek, Latin and Irish would later stand him in good stead when he joined the Society at Tullabeg in 1927. A recurrent theme in his later conversation was the reasoning behind his appointment to teach in the Crescent, Limerick. The late Jimmy McPolin, a Crescent student and nephew of the Socius, John Coyne, could benefit from a good course in Classics! He used his knowledge of Irish to good effect through the years, celebrating Mass frequently through Irish after Vatican II authorised the use of the vernacular in Liturgy. He also published in Irish a number of monographs and biographies based on his assiduous research into Jesuit and Irish Church History. Although there is no evidence of his ever having concelebrated Mass himself, he assisted at community Concelebrated Masses. Even after his 100th birthday, with the help of Brother Gerry Marks, he often made his way on Sundays to the Latin Mass in St Kevin's, Harrington Street, where he was held in high regard by members of the Latin Mass Society. He never expressed any preference about the form his funeral should take but, as a mark of respect, Latin, Irish and English were all used in his Concelebrated Requiem Mass at St Francis Xavier's.
At UCD, he studied Classics, although his preference would have been for History. He subsequently taught Latin and Greek in Mungret, Crescent and Clongowes where his pupils still recall the invitation to join in the struggle to turn back the tide of barbarism'. Besides three years teaching philosophy in India and seven as a curate in France, at Nantua and Belley, most of his life was spent in historical research. He was in his element among documents, foraging around archives. Perhaps his most notable contribution in this area was his work on the Causes of the Irish Martyrs. Without his efforts, the Cause of Blessed Dominic Collins could well have been rejected by the relevant Roman Congregation. He argued strenuously and convincingly that although the Blessed had been a professional soldier at one stage in his life and was not an ordained priest, consequently not qualified to be a full Chaplain, his contribution during the Battle of Kinsale was purely religious. His only objective in coming to Ireland was to help consolidate the Catholic faith. Frank deduced from the documents, in particular those of his English captors, that Blessed Dominic could have been set free on condition of denying his faith and abandoning his Jesuit vocation. This Dominic resolutely refused to do.
A highpoint in his life was to have taught English to the future patron saint of Chile, Saint Alberto Hurtado, in 1931. He enjoyed recalling a day in the Dublin Mountains when the Saint volunteered to have a go when the proprietor of the land where they were having a picnic asked “Is there a shot among you?” Confidently, Alberto grabbed the proffered shot-gun and blew the billy-can tossed into the air to smithereens. He had done his military service in Chile and had his eye in.
Anything Frank did he seems to have done to the best of his ability. He was an accomplished pianist but in later years only played for personal pleasure. His attention to the garden was much appreciated in the houses where he lived. In later years he concentrated on flowers and plants, enhancing a number of window-sills around the house. He was tending his beloved gloxinias right up to the end of his life. He attributed his lack of interest in sport to the fact of ill-health in childhood that precluded much involvement in games.
Frank was devoted to his family and friends and carried on a correspondence with them, frequently inviting them to meals in the house. As his hearing was adequate right to the end (although occasionally selective), he could add to the table-talk with his inexhaustible store of anecdotes and corroborative details about events in Irish, British and Jesuit Province history. He never made the transition to the computer but remained faithful to his typewriter. One touching Mass card was from the family who serviced his typewriter over the years. Unfortunately he destroyed his diaries of many years, written in Irish and in his beautiful “copper-plate” hand-writing.
Frank was a man of strong and definite opinions to which he clung tenaciously. At times he could be feisty, a word he would never have used himself. He would have considered it in the same category as “ok” which he eschewed as an instance of encroaching “American vulgarity”. As the decades rolled on he seemed to mellow somewhat and learned to live with things as they were. However, even when well into his second century, there could be the occasional flare-up about personalities, attitudes, situations and decisions from an age long gone. Towards the end, although he would never accept help in preparing his breakfast porridge or doing his own laundry, symptomatic of a deep-seated independent streak, he admitted to some limitations and willingly conceded that it “can be lonely to be so old”.
He was delighted to receive what he described as a “splendid silver medallion” from Mary McAleese, Uachtaran na hEireann, on the occasion of his 102nd birthday. Members of the community who wished were formally invited to a private viewing in his room before 12 30 p.m. each day. The President's warm message of congratulations contained words, most à propos, from a speech she had given before Christmas 2010 at a Reception for Senior Citizens: bua na gaoise toradh na haoise (the gift of wisdom is the fruit of age). In the three weeks left to him after this event he began to become visibly feebler but this did not prevent him walking around the house and carrying on as usual. On Friday, February 25th he actually walked to the Polling Booth to cast his vote in the General Election. Ten days later, he died peacefully on his own in his room.
The “Nunc dimittis” of Simeon, that upright and good man, from Luke, the Gospel read on the occasion of his Final Vows over sixty-five years earlier in the Sacred Heart Chapel, the Crescent, Limerick, on February 2nd, 1945, featured again at his Final Requiem. On that day so long ago, the much desired peace of the nations following World War II was almost in sight. We can rest assured that an tAthair Proinsias is now enjoying a much more comprehensive and lasting peace. Ní bheidh a leithéid arís ann.
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List of Jesuits ordained in the archdiocese of Malines and Jesuit preachers and confessor in the archdiocese of Malines, 1607-1794. Taken from Archivum Hibernicum XXIII (1960)
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The Irish Jesuit Archives are open only to bona fide researchers. Access by advance appointment. Further details: [email protected]
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