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Born: 06 July 1848, Lanesborough, County Roscommon
Entered: 01 November 1866, Milltown Park, Dublin
Professed: 25 March 1885
Died: 08 January 1940, Linden Nuring Home, Dublin
Part of the St Ignatius, Lower Leeson Street, Dublin community at the time of death
Older brother of Peter Finlay - RIP 1929
by 1869 at Amiens France (CAMP) studying
by 1870 at Rome Italy (ROM) studying
by 1871 at Lacens College Germany (GER) Studying
by 1878 at St Beuno’s Wales (ANG) studying
◆ HIB Menologies SJ :
Note from Peter Finlay Entry
Early education was at St Patrick’s Cavan. Admitted aged 15 by Edmund J O’Reilly, Provincial and his brother Thomas A Finlay was a fellow novice.
Note from James Redmond Entry
He studied Rhetoric at St Acheul, Amiens with Michael Weafer, Thomas Finlay and Peter Finlay, Robert Kane and Vincent Byrne, among others.
See: Morrissey, T. J. (2004). Thomas A. Finlay: Educationalist, editor, social reformer, 1848-1940.
◆ Royal Irish Academy : Dictionary of Irish Biography, Cambridge University Press online
Finlay, Thomas Aloysius
by Thomas J. Morrissey
Finlay, Thomas Aloysius (1848–1940) and Peter (1851–1929), Jesuit priests, scholars, and teachers, were born at Lanesborough, Co. Roscommon, sons of William Finlay, engineer, and Maria Finlay (née Magan), who had four other children: three daughters, all of whom became religious sisters, and a son William, who became secretary of Cavan county council. Tom and Peter were educated at St Augustine's diocesan college, Cavan (predecessor to St Patrick's College), and in 1866 both entered the novitiate of the Society of Jesus at Milltown Park, Dublin. Subsequently, they were sent for studies to St Acheul, near Amiens, after which they moved in somewhat different directions.
Thomas Finlay went (1869) to the Gregorian University, Rome, and thence, after Garibaldi's invasion, to Maria Laach where he was trained (1871–3) in modern scientific methods and was impressed by the new agricultural policy of the Prussian government, an experience he drew on in his later work. On his return to Ireland (1873) Tom joined his brother at the Crescent, Limerick, where he stayed till 1876, acting as headmaster as well as teaching German and French. He also found time to publish, under the pseudonym ‘Thomas Whitelock’, a best-selling novel, The chances of war, based on the life of Owen Roe O'Neill, which went through several editions. In addition he wrote pamphlets and was co-founder of the periodical Catholic Ireland, which became the influential Irish Monthly. In 1877 he went to St Beuno's for theology, and was ordained in 1880. His self-reliance, great energy, equable temper, and gifts for making and keeping friends were already in evidence, as also his prowess as a conversationalist and a fisherman. In 1881 he was placed in charge for a short time of St Stanislaus College, Tullabeg, near Tullamore, before being entrusted with the joint task of rector of Belvedere College, Dublin (1882–7), and fellow of the RUI in classics. In 1883 he and Peter were appointed joint professors of philosophy at UCD. He occupied the chairs of philosophy (1883–1900) and political economy (1900–30). Hence his unusual distinction of professing in three different disciplines – classics, philosophy, and political economy. Like Peter, he was a highly successful lecturer, noted for his clarity of exposition, and popular also with the students for his human qualities and his policy of promoting responsibility and independence. At Belvedere he built a new wing and purchased additional playing fields, while at the same time reconstructing the philosophy programme of the Royal University and responding to demands for retreats and spiritual lectures from the clergy of different dioceses. In 1887 he took up residence at UCD and turned again to writing as well as teaching. He translated articles from German on philosophy, and Stockle's History of philosophy. The extent and range of his articles during a busy life may be judged from the incomplete list of titles in R. J. Hayes's Sources . . . articles in Irish periodicals. He founded and edited the Lyceum magazine (1889–94) and the New Ireland Review (1894–1911), which was succeeded by Studies in 1912. In addition, as part of his deep involvement in the Irish cooperative movement, he founded and was an incisive editor of the Irish Homestead. In support of the movement, he traversed the country preaching the merits of being industrious and self-supporting, and won support among northern unionists as well as southern farmers. Sir Horace Plunkett (qv), founder of the movement, termed him ‘a remarkable living Irishman’ who had ‘largely moulded my own life work’, and who, ‘for a full half-century, laboured disinterestedly for the moral, social, and economic uplifting of the Irish poor’ (A page of Irish history, 246–7). Finlay's strong advocacy of high moral standards in public life made him enemies in the Irish parliamentary party; and his critical review of Cardinal James Gibbons, Our Christian heritage (1889), led to complaints to Rome from American Jesuits and his suspension from writing (1890–92).
Despite these varied activities, he was primarily an educationalist. Apart from his teaching in Jesuit schools and at UCD, he was a commissioner for intermediate education for many years, was active in establishing and administering a system of technical education at the start of the century, was editor-in-chief of the ‘School and College’ series of books for pupils and students, and inspired and guided those who created the Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction. Moreover, he was for many years a prominent member of the senate of the NUI and of the governing body of UCD, and was chairman (1909–38) of the trustees of the NLI. Little wonder that his successor to the chair of economics, George O'Brien (qv), remarked in Studies (1940) that ‘to write about him is like writing about a number of persons rather than a single man’. He alleged that in forty-seven years Finlay ‘never broke an engagement, never missed a lecture, never was late for a meeting’. Finlay's retirement (1930) was marked by a collection to provide a presentation portrait (now in UCD) by Leo Whelan (qv). It was so generously subscribed that funds were available to endow an annual Finlay lecture on an economic theme; the first was given by John Maynard Keynes. Tom Finlay died 8 January 1940 in his ninety-first year. He had been an invalid from 1936.
The brothers were among the most influential academics in Ireland in the last quarter of the nineteenth and the first quarter of the twentieth centuries. Thomas was described by W. E. H. Lecky (qv) as probably the most universally respected man in Ireland. Peter, who professed theology in Britain, America, and Ireland for 44 years, was widely consulted on most aspects of theology and highly regarded for his gifts of exposition.
Provincial consultors' minute book, 20 Feb. 1890 (Irish Jesuit archives, Dublin); Irish Jesuit Province News, Dec. 1929 (private circulation); ‘Sir Horace Plunkett on Professor Finlay's career as social reformer’, Fathers of the Society of Jesus, A page of Irish history: story of University College, Dublin, 1883–1909 (1930), 246–57; W. Magennis, ‘A disciple's sketch of Fr T. Finlay’, Belvederian, ix (summer 1931), 19; obit., Anglo-Celt, 13 Jan. 1940; George O'Brien, ‘Father Thomas A. Finlay, S.J., 1848–1940’, Studies, xxix (1940), 27–40; Aubrey Gwynn, obit., Irish Province News, Oct. 1940 (private circulation); R. J. Hayes (ed.), Sources for the history of Irish civilization: articles in Irish periodicals (1970), ii, 310–12; Thomas Morrissey, Towards a national university: William Delany, S.J. (1835–1924) (1983); Trevor West, Horace Plunkett: co-operation and politics (1986)
◆ Irish Province News
Irish Province News 2nd Year No 2 1927
University Hall :
On November 16th the Community at Lesson St. celebrated the Diamond Jubilee of Fr T Finlay. As a scholastic, Fr Finlay helped Fr. Matt Russell to found the Irish Monthly and the Messenger. The latter periodical ceased to appear after a short time; it was to be revived later, again under Fr Finlay's inspiration. He took a leading part in conducting the brilliant but short-lived “Lyceum”, and its successor the New Ireland Review. For Belvedere College his rectorship represented, until quite lately, the high-water mark of its success. Since 1883 he has been a Professor at University College, first under the Royal and then under the National University. During that time he has been prominent in many movements for the betterment of his Country. He was a member of the Boards of National and of Intermediate Education, is still Chairman of the National Library, Committee, has organised food depots for the poor, while his work for industrial and agricultural co-operation has won him fame in many lands. As a preacher and a lecturer his success has been extraordinary. And though he no longer appears in the pulpit, his power and his popularity as a lecturer are as great as ever. From 1912 to 1922 he was Superior in Leeson St, and President of University Hall.
Irish Province News 9th Year No 1 1934
Leeson St :
Monday, November 20th, was a red-letter day in the history of Leeson street, for it witnessed the celebration of the Golden Jubilee of the House's foundation. In November, 1833. the Community came into being at 86 St Stephen's Green, where it remained until 1909, when the building was handed over to the newly constituted National University. The Community, however, survived intact and migrated to a nearby house in Lesson Street, where it renewed its youth in intimate relationship with the Dublin College of the University.
Its history falls this into two almost equal periods, different, indeed, in many ways, yet essentially one, since the energies of the Community during each period have been devoted to the same purpose, the furtherance of Catholic University Education in Ireland. A precious link between the two eras is Father Tom Finlay, who was a member of the Community in 1883, and ever since has maintained his connection with it. His presence on Monday evening, restored to his old health after a severe illness was a source of particular pleasure to the whole gathering. It was also gratifying to see among the visitors Father Henry Browne, who had crossed from England at much personal inconvenience to take part in the celebration. Not only was Father Browne a valued member of the Community for over thirty years, but he acquired additional merit by putting on record, in collaboration with Father McKenna, in that bulky volume with the modest title " A Page of Irish History," the work achieved by the House during the first heroic age of its existence. It was a pleasure, too, to see hale and well among those present Father Joseph Darlington, guide, philosopher and friend to so many students during the two periods. Father George O'Neill, who for many years was a distinguished member of the Community, could not, alas. be expected to make the long journey from his newer field of fruitful labor in Werribee, Australia. Father Superior, in an exceptionally happy speech, described the part played by the Community, especially in its earlier days of struggle, in the intellectual life of the country. The venerable Fathers who toiled so unselfishly in the old house in St. Stephens Green had exalted the prestige of the Society throughout Ireland. Father Finlay, in reply, recalled the names of the giants of those early days, Father Delany, Father Gerald Hopkins, Mr. Curtis and others. Father Darlington stressed the abiding influence of Newman, felt not merely in the schools of art and science, but in the famous Cecilia Street Medial School. Father Henry Browne spoke movingly of the faith, courage and vision displayed by the leaders of the Province in 1883, when they took on their shoulders such a heavy burden. It was a far cry from that day in 1883, when the Province had next to no resources, to our own day, when some sixty of our juniors are to be found, as a matter of course preparing for degrees in a National University. The progress of the Province during these fifty years excited feelings of admiration and of profound gratitude , and much of that progress was perhaps due to the decision, valiantly taken in 1883 1883, which had raised the work of the Province to a higher plane.
Irish Province News 15th Year No 2 1940
Father Thomas Finlay
When the Editor of “Province News” did me the honour of inviting me to write a notice of Father Finlay's life, he added a comment on the usual summary of dates which he
enclosed from the annual Catalogues : “Never did Catalogues conceal so completely the life of a Jesuit as Father Finlay's Catalogues conceal his splendid and most active life.” There is a great deal of truth in this comment, though the fault does not lie with the compiler of the annual Catalogues. From his early years as a Scholastic in Rome, Maria Laach, Limerick and St. Beuno's, Father Tom was never lacking in that remarkable power of initiative which enabled him to attempt and accomplish so much during his long life of ninety-one years. His initiative was largely personal, and many of the works for which he was known throughout the country are not even mentioned in the official records of the Catalogues. Apart from his activities, Father Tom's fame was largely due to his great gifts of personal charm, sympathetic kindness and quiet humour. No man was better. fitted to make friends everywhere, and Father Tom made and kept a host of friends during his long and most useful life. Even his birthplace is matter for dispute among the learned. He was always claimed as a Cavan man; but a record is extant from his novitiate, in which he himself has entered his birth-place as Lanesborough, Co. Roscommon. The mystery is solved by a reminiscence, of which he was proud. His father was an engineer on the Shannon River works, and young Tom Finlay was born on an island just north of Lough Ree, which his father was later to submerge beneath the waters of the Shannon. One of his favourite reminiscences was of a Hedge-schooI which he attended somewhere near the Shannon in the early fifties. The master used to test the ability of his pupils by making them spell “Antitrinitarian.” But discipline was too severe for the engineer's young son, and he ran away home from class on the second or. third day. He was then sent to school at St Patrick's, Cavan, where he remained until he entered the Jesuit novitiate at Milltown Park, on November 12, 1866. He took his first vows at Milltown on the Feast of St. Stanislaus, 1868. Just seventy years later it was any privilege to say Mass for Father Tom at Linden Convalescent Home on the Feast of St Stanislaus, 1938. He had then been an invalid for two years and was almost ninety years old. He had been wheeled into the Convent Chapel in a chair, and heard his Jubilee Mass in the midst of the patients and children of Linden. “Consummatus in brevi explevit tempera multa.” The young novice of 1868 can have little dreamed how many long years lay before him. But there was a great deal of simple novice's piety about Father Tom in his last years. Day by day he was wheeled into the Chapel for his morning Mass; and it was seldom indeed that he would allow his nurse to keep him away from the Chapel for the daily Rosary, which he loved to recite with the other patients every evening. From Milltown he was sent to the French Juniorate at Saint-Acheul. where he spent part of the year 1869. Then, with Father Vincent Byrne as his companion, he was sent to the Gregorian at Rome, where they witnessed the stirring scenes of the Vatican Council and Garibaldi entry into Rome. In 1936, Father Vincent McCormick, then Rector of the Gregorian visited Dublin, and stayed in Lesson Street, where Father Finlay was still resident. He was introduced as a past student of the Gregorian. “And when were you in Rome?” asked the Rector, not realizing how old his new acquaintance was “At the Vatican Council” was the smiling answer, and Father Tom’s eyes were twinkling, for he felt that he had scored a point. Garibaldi's entrance into Reine threw the Gregorian into confusion, and Father Tom was sent to Maria Laach, where he spent the next two years (1871-73). It was here that he was impressed by the new agricultural policy of the Prussian government - a lesson in practical economics that he was later to turn to most practical uses. And it was from the German Fathers at Maria Laach that Father Tom received his training in modern scientific methods, which (for a time, at least) made him anxious to specialise in Biology. His intellectual activity during these years must have been remarkable. When he became Professor of Metaphysics in Father Delany's University College ten years later, one of his chief enterprises was to bring Irish Catholic students into contact with modern German thought by the translation of German works on Scholastic Philosophy.
From 1873-76 Mr. Thomas Finlay was teaching his class at the Crescent College, Limerick, with extra work as French and German master and (for the last two years) as Prefect of Studies. A full programme for most men. and the work was not lessened by the fact that the Irish schools were adapting themselves to the new Intermediate System in these years. Mr Finlay's results were brilliant in the new system of competitive examinations, but that did not prevent him from writing his historical novel, “Chances of War,” during these same years. As an old priest, with a long record of useful work behind him, he was fond of telling a story that happened in these Limerick years. Some of the older Fathers found this young scholastic too enterprising, and complaints reached the Irish Provincial, who was a firm believer in the established order of things. Father Tuite summoned the budding author to his presence, and gently suggested to him that “he should remain in his legitimate obscurity.” But the Society has its own ways of checking too great enterprise for a time, and Mr. Finlay was sent to St. Beuno's for his four years of Theology in 1877.
Father Tom was ordained in 1880, he lived to say the Jubilee Mass of his ordination in 1930. There is no trace of his Tertianship in the official Catalogues, and the reason is not far to seek. When Father Tom emerged from Theology in 1881 the Irish Province was faced with an unusual responsibility. The Catholic University which had been founded, with Newman as Rector, in 1851, had failed, so far as practical results were concerned. But the long struggle for equality of rights in University education had at long last met with a partial response from the English Government of the day. The Royal University of Ireland was founded as an examining body, with a limited number of endowed fellowships, in 1881, and the Irish Hierarchy invited Father William Delany, whose energy and ability had made Tullabeg a centre of intellectual life, to take over control of University College under the new conditions. Father Finlay was sent to Tullabeg without further delay, to assist Father Delany as Assistant Prefect of Studies. From Tullabeg a small group of Jesuit Fathers came to Temple Street in Dublin, whilst the Bishops were negotiating the final transfer of University College. As soon as the teaching staff of the new College was formed, with Father Delany as first Rector, Father Finlay was nominated to one of the fellowships in the Royal University, and was appointed Professor of Metaphysics. He held this chair until 1900, when he resigned it in favour of his most brilliant student in these early years, the present Professor William Magennis. Meanwhile, another of his brilliant students, William Coyne, had been appointed Professor of Political Economy. University College suffered a sore loss by William Coyne's death in 1904 and Father Tom Finlay, who had meanwhile taken a leading part in the Co-operative Movement throughout the country, took over the vacant Chair of Political Economy in the same year, He held this chair until the end of the Royal University in 1909; and was immediately appointed to the same chair in the new National University of Ireland. It was this chair that he resigned in 1930, having taught his classes without interruption for forty-seven years (1883-1930). It was his boast that, during all those years he had never omitted a lecture for ill-health or any other reason. God had certainly blessed him with a wonderfully strong and harmonious constitution.
During the first five years of his new career, Father Finlay was not resident in St. Stephen's Green, but was Rector of Belvedere College (1883-87) with his duties as fellow and professor of the Royal University as an extra charge. It is indeed hard to understand how any man can have thrown himself with such energy into his various activities as Father Finlay did during these early years. In Belvedere the new school-buildings were rising as proof of his keen organising ability; and they were only the symbol of an active intellectual life that was attracting general attention to the College. Father Finlay planned a whole series of school text-books and copy books that were to help him pay off the debts incurred in the erection of the new buildings. But this policy was checked for a time, and Father Finlay left Belvedere for University College in 1887. Memories still survive among some old inhabitants of North Dublin : Father Tom Finlay, as a young, vigorous and good-looking priest, riding a fine, black horse down the streets of Dublin to the Phoenix Park. For the Rector of Belvedere College was a conspicuous figure in the social life of Dublin City at that time. The friendships which Father Tom made in the 'eighties and nineties opened up a new sphere of activity, which led to his becoming one Of the best-known and influential priests in the country. His influence in Government circles was very great. He was appointed a Commissioner of National Education, a Trustee of the National Library, and a member of various Royal Commissions. His word was often decisive in the appointment of some Catholic to a post that had hitherto been jealously reserved by the Protestant ascendency, and Father Tom had the knack of making himself liked as well as respected for his solid judgment and courageous support of what he held to be good and true. During these same years he founded and edited two notable monthly magazines : “The Lyceum” (1889-94), and the “New Ireland Review” (1894-1911). There is no space here to tell in any detail the story of Father Tom Finlay's work for the Irish Co-operative Movement, by which he will probably be chiefly remembered in Irish history. It was work that could only be done by a man who had attained the special position which he held in Irish public life. But it is worth recording that gratitude to Father Tom was felt by the poor as well as the rich, for he would spare no time and trouble if he thought the Irish people could be helped by his labourers. His memory is perhaps most cherished .in Foxford Co. Mayo, where he took a leading part in the establishment of the Providence Mills, that have been founded and managed from the first by the Irish Sisters of Charity. During his last illness two of the workers in the Mills were married in Foxford. They were old friends of Father Tom, and they were not satisfied until they had travelled to Dublin in one of the lorries owned by the Mills, to get the old priest's blessing on their married life. When news of his death reached Foxford this year, telegrams of condolence were sent by the staff as a whole, and by some of his personal friends in the Foxford Mills. A notice of Father Finlay's life would be incomplete without some reference to the out-door sports which he had always clung to, in the midst of his busiest years. He was a firm believer in the policy of one good holiday a week, for which good Jesuit tradition can be quoted. His own tastes favoured fishing and shooting, and his friendships. through the country gave him opportunities that were sometimes perhaps the subject of envious comment. Father Tom and his brother Father Peter were keen sportsmen, but it is not certain that their skill was equal to their interest in the sport. Both men were individualists; and their individualism was sometimes erratic in quality, One leading Irish statesmen still has memories of a day's shooting on the lands of O'Conor Don. The party went to to the bog after breakfast; and a council of war was held during the lunch interval. The more cautious members gave it as their opinion that there was only one completely safe position in the field. You could get it by drawing a straight line between the two brothers Finlay! Even his brethren in Leeson Street were sometimes inclined to be sceptical. To the very end, when Father Tom was already long past eighty he made it a practice of. going off for a few days fishing in the Easter holidays, and Good Friday was not complete unless Father Tom brought home a salmon for the community. It was always welcome; but some at least of the Fathers used to murmur that perhaps a faithful Gilly in Co. Wexford was as much responsible for the salmon as Father Tom. But that was a joke that no one would venture to make in Father Tom’s presence. The end came, after four long years of illness, on January 8th. 1940. Father Tom had been stricken down in Leeson Street in the early autumn of 1936, and ever since he had been confined to his bed-room and an invalid chair. It was a long trial, which he bore with wonderful patience, and it was good to think that so many of his friends showed their loyalty and gratitude to him by their frequent visits and messages of sympathy. He died peacefully, having spent the last two days in almost continuous prayer. The funeral Mass at Gardiner Street gave a last opportunity for a tribute of respect and affection, which, once more, revealed the wide connections that Father Tom Finlay had made in his long and laborious
life. May he rest in peace. “A. Gwynn”
◆ The Belvederian, Dublin, 1931
A Disciples Sketch of Father Tom Finlay SJ - William Magennis
When I first saw Father Finlay he was the youthful Rector of Belvedere College. Of middle height, squarely built - so the ordinary man of his physique would be described. But in Father Finlay's case, the face at once captured and held one's notice. It was a strong, somewhat Milesian face, marked with firm decision; not stern, however, for the shrewd bright eyes were always ready to light up with a genial smile. Even then they had that surround of wrinkles which are supposed to indicate advancing age but are more likely to be born of frequent laughter. His hair was coal-black and it lay on his shapely head just as Mr Leo Whelan's masterpiece of portraiture shows it in the painting with which he has immortalized himself.
Like, “Father O'Flynn”, Father Finlay had and still has - the wonderful way with him. Tho' he was Rector and I was an Intermediate boy, he treated me - or so it seemed to me as an equal. Never in his career, not even when in later years he was an intimate of Mr Gerald Balfour, Chief Secretary for Ireland, and Lady Gerald Balfour (a very exceptional and gifted woman of influence) and was high in the councils of the great, did he ever “put on side”. He was invariably simple, and unpretentious, apparently unconscious of his own pre-eminence.
At the time I first came under his spell, he had built Belvedere College, for he was full of enterprise and courage. In spite of his humility he had faith in his own designs and projects. To me he is the living ernbodiment of Russell Lowell's dictum. The confidence of the world is guided to a man by a well grounded confidence in himself.
The building was erected on the grounds of Belvedere House, one of those glorious mansions which serve to make us realize to what a level of superb culture the eighteenth century Anglo-Irish - or were they Irish English? - had attained. The Rector's reception-room was at the back of the grand salon, a former music-room probably, and its windows looked out on the facade of the new building. It was there I saw him first, and the memory of him, in his fine environment, remains to me a living vivid memory unduled by all the years between.
Not the least, by the way, of his minor contributions to Dublin's improvement, was the pious care with which he had the exquisitely beautiful stucco enrichments by Italian artists that decorate the hall and staircase of the mansion, restored and delicately picked out in refined colouring.
In those years Belvedere had no playing fields; but later on, he bought grounds between Palmerston Road and Cowper Road, and constructed a bridge across the railway line to give access to them.
He was then a Nationalist in politics, and had considerable weight with not a few of the Irish Parliamentary Party. He secured entrance into the Party for Sir Thomas Grattan Esmonde, but Parnell rather suspected the neophyte as a possible instrument of a Jesuit intrigue. That superstition about Jesuitry dies hard, or rather, it lives hard; Even John Dillon, a devoted Catholic, shared it: he said to me one day - in a moment of expansion during our campaign for a new University - “That friend of yours, Father Finlay, is one of the d---est intriguers in Ireland!” When I expostulated that others might engage in intrigue, but Father Finlay never, Mr, Dillon retorted, “That only shows how he has hoodwinked you!!!”
In course of time I became a teacher of English Literature in Belvedere, and as I was simultaneously a student of Father Finlay in Philosophy, I enjoyed the inestimable advantage of walking with him from his house to the old University College in St Stephen's Green, where he lectured as a Fellow of the Royal University in Mental and Moral Science - as Philosophy was then nicknamed for prudential reasons.
T D Sullivan, poet and patriot, had fallen on evil days financially and was losing heavily on the weekly which he had acquired from his more eminent brother, “A M” Sullivan. This, “The Nation” (founded by Thomas Davis, the elder Dillon and Gavan Duffy) lived largely on recollections of its past, and had a slender circulation. Father Finlay came to T D's rescue by suggesting that three of us, of University College, should be permitted to contribute articles. The present Professor Robert Donovan, who was a tutor in English and several years our senior, Joe Farrell (long ycars dead) and I were thus introduced to Journalism under Father Finlay's auspices.
The mention of this serves to introduce another of his projects - provision of a Club which would serve as a social centre for Catholic professional men and others in Dublin who had passed through “Tullabeg” (then a College for laymen), Clongowes, Mungret or St. Ignatius. The late Sir Joseph McGrath (who died Registrar of the National University) and his partner “Dan” Croly, MA, who was lecturer in many Catholic institutions, were the only people connected with it whom I ever knew. It was called the “Lyceum Club” and it had the ambition, I heard, at one time to rival the Trinity College Club in St Stephen's Green. It was, however, a vaulting ambition, and it “fell on the other” financially. It was still alive, tho' moribund, when Father Finlay had us made members of it, that we might have the facilities it provided for reading magazines and reviews.
Writing and publishing had always a powerful attraction for Father Finlay. While a “scholastic” he wrote an Irish historical novel treating of the times of Owen Roe, “The Chances of War”, by Rev Thomas Whitelock - I had the pleasure in later years of making it a school reader with my photograph of the author as a frontispiece. He helped the Land Movement, I remember, by pamphleteering - one pamphlet, I remember “Ricardo on Rent”. The Lyceum was a more ambitious - undertaking, a monthly magazine cultivating philosophic politics, sociology, and the Arts, especially Literature. In the first years, Father Finlay was The Lyceum. But I need not recite its history in detail here, for my old friend and college companion-Professor John W Howley of University College, Galway has performed that service with consummate ability and considerable accuracy, in view of the fact that he was not a Lyceum-ite, his history of it forms a chapter in “A Page of Irish History” (Talbot Press). His tireless anxiety to develop his students led him to initiate all sorts of College Societies, not to speak of the Sodality. One of these was a Shakespeare reading society, and Father Finlay was fond of explaining to us different interpretations of favourite passages. I fear, however, few of our number had any histrionic capacity. He promoted, notwithstanding, college theatricals and one of his younger “stars” Tom Molloy, grew stage-struck and joined the company of Beerbohm Tree. I saw him on the boards of the “Gaiety” as Roseneranz or was it Guildenstern? - in Hamlet. He worked up also a Debating Society; and under its favouring conditions “Alex” Sullivan, now Sergeant Sullivan, KC, of the London Bar, first displayed his hereditary powers of oratory.
As regards public speaking, Father Finlay taught by example. He was never what I would call an orator. He was always a finished speaker. He himself, I fancy, rather scorned those elements, rhetorical turns of expression, semi-poetical diction, ornament and emotional appeal, which mark out oratory from the less ornate utterance of ideas. There are sincere souls to whom these “flights” savour of insincerity, or affectation. Where Father Finlay excelled was in the orderly marshalling of his facts, in lucid exposition, and ice-cold, clear-cut, hard, close reasoning that never turned aside until it had remorse lessly demolished the opponent's case. I have always thought what a magnificent equity lawyer and Lord Chancellor were lost to fame when T A Finlay entered the Jesuit Order.
There is, indeed, in the present generation a young T A Finlay who has already made his forensic mark, is an KC and TD, and will assuredly one day ornament the bench of the Supreme Court.
At the expiration of his rectorship, Father Finlay took up residence in University College, where Father Delany reigned as President, The building, famous from long before, as the city dwelling-house of Buck Whalley (a Hell Fire Club-inan with Curran) had been the scene of Newman's ill-starred attempt to found a Catholic University. Father Delany and Father Finlay, aided by colleagues like the historian of Cromwellian Ireland, Rev Denis Murphy; the Irish Mezzo-fanti, Rev J O'Carroll; Rev Gerard Hopkins, the poet; Rev Joseph Darlington (friend of Everyman), were able in some miraculous fashion, to galvanize the corpse that Newman's failure had left unburied, into healthy, vigorous life. And its activities made the National University of Ireland possible.
In St. Stephen's Green, Father Finlay found more leisure - if “leisure”can be used, without a “Bull”, to name a host of varied occupations. He gave scholarly courses of Lenten Lectures, making dry-as-dust Theology a popular “draw”; he organised Needlework Depots, crcating industries, and enlarging employment for women and girls; helped to establish woollen mills; founded a publishing firm; was controlling editor of “The New Ireland Review”, and editor-in-chief of “The School and College Series” of books for pupils and students; assisted the Creamery movement; lectured all over Ireland in praise of co-operative industry; inspired and guided the men who created the Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction.
During the Parnell leadership controversy, Father Finlay, who, in virtue, perhaps, of his semi-Scottish ancestry, had always been rigidly austere in moral matters even to Puritanism, assailed Parnell vigorously, and joined with the late Mr Tirnothy Healy in cailing for his deposition. To me, an ardent Parnellite, it seemed an unhappy alliance. The friendship of the two men, thus begun, remained firm and unbroken till death, some months ago, severed it rudely.
Father Finlay inagnanimously forgave my political break-away from his leadership; and it speaks eloquently for his tolerance, that the strong divergence of opinion which grew up between us as the years went by never threw its shadow on our relations as co-workers in the production of school-books, and as colleagues in the University Department of Philosophy.
The hero-worship with which from the first years I could not but reverence him, survived in spite of his union with the Horace Plunkett group in a movement into which Nationalist prejudice did not permit of his being followed. Father Finlay, thanks to his reaction against Parnellism, and his deepened sense of the vital importance of economic matters in the life of the Nation, had come to consider direct, constructive effort among the farmers a more potent instrument of building up a prosperous, Catholic Ireland than political action in way of agitation could ever provide. His satirical humour, of which he has a fund, loved to play its blistering tongue on the moving and passing of resolutions, and “voicing the aspirations of a down-trodden and oppressed nationality”. Clap-trap, raimeis, make-believe, falsities and lies, he abominates by instinct. And, I fear, he relegates our political propaganda to that infamous dust-bin of things despicable.
They who have only an external acquaintance with Father Finlay cannot even guess what depths of genial humanity lie hidden from them in the man. It would, I know, displease him were I to make public here even a fraction of what I know of his innumerable benefactions. St Francis of Assisi was happily styled the “friend of every friendless beast” : Father Finlay I would style the
friend of all the friendless poor. He has a strong sense of duty; but his large heart gives as strong an urge.
Father Finlay has a keen zest for shooting and fishing, he has fished trout from every lake in the Comeragh hills, in Galway and Mayo, Sligo and the North-West. He has no less zest for humorous narrative; and can rival, at times, even Dickens in giving a comic colouring to the most unpromising materials.
◆ The Belvederian, Dublin, 1940
Father Thomas Finlay SJ
Though he was not educated at Belvedere it would be the blackest of ingratitude if Belvedere did not recognise in Fr Tom Finlay one who had paramount claims upon the School. Others have spoken and written of the wider activities with which this great man's later life was crowded, but we cannot o help rejoicing that the educationalist, who was for many years a pillar of the
National University and an outstanding force in the intellectual life of his country, served his apprenticeship to education and public affairs in Belvedere.
He was a young man, a very young man as Jesuits go, when in 1883 he s became Rector of Belvedere. Yet, he had already about him the elements which were to build up his great prestige. He was already associated with those views and projects which made him not only an ideal Commissioner of Education, and Dean of the Philosophic Faculty in his University, but Founder of the Irish Co-operative Movement and of University Hall. In a true sense, he was the second founder of Belvedere. Materially; certainly. For with the widest vision, backed by the financial resources of his own active brain and pen, he set to work to provide adequate accommodation for a great School for over fifty years.
Incredible as it seems, Belvedere had then carried on with no larger accommodation than the stately drawing-rooms and parlours of Lord Belvedere, where ugly partitions hid the beauty of the decoration and familiarity exposed it to damage. It is hard to-day to realise what those improvised class-rooms and mutilated halls must have been like; what handicaps it had of air and light and heat and cold, and noise and crowding. Fr Finlay swept all that away. First, built the new school buildings in solid red brick which now, as then, though almost doubled by recent additions, housed the Senior school. There was a fine, if small, chapel, excellent laboratories, a “manual work” room, and plenty of class-room space, well lit and warmed. It was work done, not for a day or a year, but for a century or two at the least. Not content with this achievement, he built our theatre and gymnasium, built it so well that it serves admirably the needs of what has become one of Belvedere's most remarkable activities, our popular opera week. In its construction vision, vision once again united with common sense, the spacious and solid with the practicable and the useful. Lastly, he acquired that fine mansion, fit neighbour to Belvedere House, which had been the residence of the Earls of Fingal. Part of this was designed as club house, it has since served to house the Irish Messenger Office, whose connection with Belvedere has been so happy a thing for the School. But for many years before Fr Finlay's policy could be carried further by the acquisitions Nos 7 and 8 Great Denmark Street, it served as a Preparatory school, too, and generations of Belvederians began their school life in the “Little” House. Such a record needs no emphasising. Fr Finlay's was a unique opportunity. He rose nobly to it, and all future generations have only to follow his lead..
Spiritually, perhaps, he meant even more to the School. For Fr Finlay was anything but a mere efficient machine, a juggler with bricks and mortar pounds and pence. To those who knew him that idea is so absurd as to be laughable. For those who did not, one glance at the fine countenance in Leo Whelan's portrait should reveal that wonderful combination of head and heart which made him the great man he was. One misses indeed the little smile the eyes began and the fine, sensitive lips finished, but there is in that broad clear brow and firm glance, and in the enviable repose of the features, a summary of Fr Finlay's qualities. He was one who loved knowledge greatly for herself but more for her kindness to mankind. He was one who loved boys, but again loved manhood more. This made him a teacher, a director of studies and a inspirer of studies at once zealous and not fanatical, wide and not wasteful, noble and not visionary. Of his government of boys. it can be said with certainty tha it was much ahead, both in theory and practice, of the normal expectation of his time. Father Finlay was as incapable of harshness, even of what could fairly be called severity, as he was unyielding in his demand for the essentials and just in his sense of proportion. Character in him was fused with kindness. Only a few months before his death a distinguished Belvederian priest, whose picture adorns our pages, found himself in Ireland for a brief spell and learn of his old rector's accessibility even in retirement. He was on the eve of his departure to what is perhaps the world's most arduous and dangerous mission On the day he sailed he went out to Linden. There the two had long talk. Who shall say what they remembered or what they anticipated. But as his visitor rose to go Fr Finlay, with real feeling, asked for a last blessing and with tears in his eyes, his admiring son did for the last time what he was bidden The episode is characteristic. To hear Fr Finlay talk of his old boys was to hear him tell stories of the happy intercourse that can exist between master and boy almost in proportion to the humility, nay, the reverence of both.
He was too short a time (1883-1888) in Belvedere, for it was impossible to expect he should be allowed to give to one limited sphere and group the talents which have enriched the nation. But he never altered his allegiance to his old School. At the Centenary Celebrations in 1931, when he was well over eighty he preached the sermon at the commemorative High Mass, and linked with glowing words, a worthy past to the hopes of a proud future. God spared him to his ninety-second year, with all his wonderful powers of mind and affection intact, and in the final years he would enquire from his visitors after the health and happiness of the School which he had led out of the stages of childhood to the full growth of manhood and maturity. Always it was with a mind eager to hear of new effort and fresh achievement, so that his hearers surely cannot doubt that it will be part of his reward to assist from the Kingdom of Glory those who still struggle with the problems, the works and the opportunities in which he merited so splendidly of boyhood, of his country and of God.
◆ The Crescent : Limerick Jesuit Centenary Record 1859-1959
Bonum Certamen ... A Biographical Index of Former Members of the Limerick Jesuit Commnnity
Father Thomas Finlay (1848-1940)
Entered the Society some eight months after his younger brother. He also did all his higher studies abroad, as, in those days, the Irish Province of the Society had not enough men to maintain their own houses of studies. Thomas Finlay was a student of philosophy in Rome when Garibaldi took the city. He finished his philosophy in Germany and it was during this time he first acquired his interests in scientific methods of agriculture. He spent his regency at Crescent College, 1872-1877. In 1875, although he was still only a scholastic, he was appointed prefect of studies. His versatility was remarkable during his years in Limerick: he was master, prefect of studies, master of the choir and novelist! it was at this time he published his novel, “The Chances of War”. Shortly after his ordination in 1880 a new and brilliant career lay ahead for him. He became a Fellow of the newly established Royal University of Ireland and until 1900 was professor of metaphysics. It is a significant tribute to his physical, no less than his mental energy, that for the first five years of his professor ship at University College, Dublin, he was also Rector of Belvedere College.
In 1900, Father Finlay, who for years had taken a leading part in the co-operative movement, was appointed to the chair of Political Economy, and held this post with distinction for the next thirty years.
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Signed copies of portraits of Fr Thomas A. Finlay SJ by unidentified [c1910], Adolf Eckstein’s Verlag (Berlin-Charlottenburg) and Leo Whelan .
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