Fr. Finn was a jovial priest who connected with flock

By Peter Finney Jr., Clarion Herald

Father John P. Finn, the Irish-born, former Christian Brother who later became a priest and spent many years as pastor of Holy Family Parish in Luling, died Aug. 25 at Chateau de Notre Dame. He was 79.

“He was a wonderful, outgoing, special priest who loved life and had a marvelous capacity to connect with people,” said Msgr. Harry Bugler, the pastor of St. Philip Neri Parish, who delivered the homily at Father Finn’s Funeral Mass Aug. 31 at Holy Family Church. “He had a great wit and always told wonderful stories. He had a huge heart, and he had great respect for the people.”

Born in ‘Little Garden’

A native of Gurteen (Little Garden), County Sligo, Ireland, Father Finn attended elementary and secondary school in Ireland. He was educated by the Christian Brothers and joined the order and graduated as a teacher in 1960. For five years, he taught as a Christian Brother in Cardiff, Wales.

In 1976, after years in business in England, he felt called to the priesthood and offered himself as a late vocation, entering St. Joseph Seminary in Waterford, Ireland, and was ordained as a transitional deacon there in 1980.

He was invited to serve as a transitional deacon in the Archdiocese of New Orleans the following year and completed his theological studies at Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans, spending the year at St. Francis Xavier Parish in Metairie while studying at Notre Dame.

He was ordained to the priesthood on May 16, 1981, by Archbishop Philip M. Hannan. His ordination classmates in 1981 included Father Walter Austin, Msgr. Frank Giroir, Father John Marse and Father José Ladra.

He served as a parochial vicar at St. Lawrence the Martyr Parish in Metairie, St. Agnes Parish in Jefferson and St. Frances Cabrini Parish in New Orleans.

He became pastor of Holy Family Parish in Luling in 1987, serving there until 2004, and then was named pastor of St. James Major Parish in New Orleans from 2004 until his post-Katrina retirement in 2006. He was rescued after Katrina from the flooded St. James Major campus. Father Finn had been slowed in recent years by diabetes and was living at Chateau de Notre Dame.

Msgr. Bugler said Father Finn raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for missions in Brazil, building schools, churches and clinics.

“Someone said God gave him five talents and he returned 5,000,” Msgr. Bugler said.

Retired Deacon Coy Landry, who served with Father Finn for 15 years, said his pastor used to say, “I was his deacon.”

“He was very funny,” Deacon Landry said. “It wasn’t necessarily what he said but how he said it. One weekend after I had given my homily for the fourth Mass, I sat down after my last preaching and he looked at me and said, ‘You’ve said that so many times you’re starting to believe it yourself.’”

Father Finn established the 250-member Busy Bees senior group, which now has a long waiting list, and the Knights of Columbus St. Charles Council No. 2409. He also was the driving force behind building a new 700-seat church in 2001, which cost $2.3 million but has long since been paid off.

“He was a businessman and a builder, and he just got things done,” Deacon Landry said. “He never begged for money. Once a year, he would put up this big sign behind the altar – ‘Time, Talent, Treasure’ – and people were very generous.” 

Father Finn also loved making sick calls and often would remind parishioners to offer rides to neighbors who could not get to church on their own. Father Finn also was willing to celebrate Funeral Masses in cases where a family could not find a priest, even if he did not know the family.

“His fellow priests would kiddingly call him ‘The Burying Priest,’” Deacon Landry said.

In addition to his pastoral assignments in the archdiocese, Father Finn served on the Continuing Formation Committee for priests.

Father Finn was preceded in death by his parents and three of his siblings. He is survived by brothers Kieran Finn and Gerry Finn as well as numerous nieces and nephews. He was buried at St. Charles Cemetery in Luling.

Peter Finney Jr. can be reached at pfinney@clarionherald.org.

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