Bishop Tom Finnegan
Progressive educationalist was a committed advocate for emigrants from his diocese, writes Martin Long
BISHOP Tom Finnegan, who was buried last Wednesday after funeral Mass in St Muredach's Cathedral, Ballina, Co Mayo, after passing away on Christmas morning, was Bishop of Killala from 1987 to 2002.
He was known in his diocese for his concern for the many emigrants from the diocese in various parts of the world and as a progressive educationalist.
Thomas Anthony Finnegan was born on August 26, 1925, in Castlerea, Co Roscommon.
He was educated at Runnamoat National School, CBS Primary School and Roscommon and Summerhill College, Sligo before going on to St Patrick's College, Maynooth, where he was ordained in 1951. After four years' postgraduate studies in education and canon law he taught briefly in Catholic University School, Dublin, and in Summerhill College, Sligo. He was Elphin Diocesan Secretary for three years and then returned to Maynooth as dean of Junior House from 1960 until 1966.
He was president of Summerhill College from 1966 to 1979. During these years he presided over major developments in the college in terms of acquiring new buildings, broadening the curriculum and expanding student numbers from 400 to 800. He was chairman of the Catholic Headmasters' Association in the 1970s and was regarded as one of the leading educationalists in Ireland at a time when the advent of free secondary education revolutionised Irish education.
In 1973 he was one of a team which investigated curriculum development in Scandinavia and Britain on behalf of Imtec (International Management Training for Educational Change).
In 1982 he became parish priest of Roscommon and in 1985 vicar general of Elphin Diocese.
The appointment of Thomas Finnegan as successor to Bishop Thomas McDonnell was announced on May 8, 1987, and he was ordained Bishop of Killala in St Muredach's Cathedral by the Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Gaetano Alibrandi, on July 12, 1987. Among his first decisions as Bishop of Killala was to reform clergy incomes.
In 1993, he undertook a consultation of the diocese regarding the redeployment of priests, changing the number and times of weekend masses and trying to solve anomalies created by parish boundaries, with the findings published in the Report on the Diocesan Consultation, 1994. In 1993 also he established the Killala Diocesan Mission to Miracema, Brazil, and since then the diocese, in conjunction with other agencies, has resourced a team of missionaries, priests and laypeople.
During his time in Ballina, the Pastoral Centre was built (1991) and a huge renovation of the cathedral was completed to mark the Jubilee Year 2000.
In the late 1980s, when unemployment was high and a new wave of emigration to America denuded the parishes of the diocese of their youth, he sent Fr Martin Keveny to "walk with" the youth of Ireland in the USA. Later Fr Keveny was joined in New York by Fr Michael Harrison with Fr Gerry O'Donnell going to Boston.
An innovator and man of ideas, he encouraged participation, delighting at one point in finding the principle of subsidiarity at the heart of the Treaty of Rome. He voted against the Maastricht Treaty.
He evinced an extraordinary commitment to his work as a bishop allied with an exceptional capacity for work. He will be remembered too for the kindness and respect with which he treated people.