Concern Worldwide remembers founder Aengus Finucane

October 6, 2009

On the sixth anniversary of Father Aengus Finucane’s death, here is the story we displayed in 2009. A memorial in his honor was held on Oct. 6, 2015, at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. His legacy remains at the core of everything we do.

IN MEMORIAM
FATHER AENGUS FINUCANE

Oct. 6, 2009

Founder, Concern Worldwide
Honorary President, Concern Worldwide US
Beloved Friend, Brother, Uncle, Colleague and Champion of the Poorest of the Poor

“Build bridges by your lives across a gaping world blasted by hatred.”
— Tagore, Indian poet

Concern Worldwide US CEO Tom Arnold, Chairman Tom Moran, Executive Director Siobhán Walsh, the Board of Directors and entire staff mourn the great loss of founder Father Aengus Finucane in solidarity with all of the Concern family today. Aengus passed away this morning at 8:30 am in Dublin, surrounded by loved ones.

A native of County Limerick, Aengus devoted his life to the Finucane family tradition of public service from a young age. In his first assignment as a young missionary with the Holy Ghost Fathers as Parish Priest in Uli, Nigeria, Aengus found himself in the midst of the bitter civil war between Nigeria and Biafra in 1968. Aengus literally came face to face with famine, with starving men, women, and children at his very doorstep. Aengus and his brother, Father Jack Finucane, alongside colleagues from all faiths, knew they could not be bystanders — they knew they had to act immediately and do whatever they could to alleviate the suffering.

Aengus with a Bengali family in Saidpur, Bangladesh, 1997.

Aengus with a Bengali family in Saidpur, Bangladesh, 1997.

Turning schools into refugee camps, setting up food distributions and emergency hospitals, Aengus, alongside his brother Jack, worked tirelessly to bring aid to hundreds of thousands caught up in the conflict. At the height of the crisis in the summer of 1968, it was estimated that 6,000 children were dying every week due to lack of food and medicines. Aengus and his brother turned to their home country to raise awareness of the seriousness of the famine. The response was extraordinary. An emergency airstrip in the parish of Uli was widened in order to accommodate the shipments and flights of relief supplies that were flown in from Ireland every night. Aengus and his colleagues lined the runway with lanterns to guide the landing of the planes, unloading and distributing food, blankets, and medicines amid active warfare in extremely dangerous conditions. “Uli was bombed every day,” Aengus remembered, “but the Biafrans were lined up in the forest with truckloads of gravel to fill the holes in the battered runway.”

Aengus literally came face to face with famine, with starving men, women, and children at his very doorstep.

From these conditions of hardship, suffering, and conflict — and from great courage and commitment — Concern Worldwide was born.

For the next 30 years, Aengus worked among and fought for the poorest of the poor in conflict zones, disasters, and famines. He lived in and traveled to the world’s poorest countries, including Ethiopia, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Uganda and witnessing the horrors of Rwanda firsthand.

In 1981, he became Chief Executive of Concern, a post he held until 1997, when he came to the United States to set up Concern Worldwide US, where he was Honorary President until his death. His work with Concern Worldwide US was extraordinary — working alongside Executive Director Siobhan Walsh and Chairman Tom Moran to build the organization from a small team of four to 25 that raises millions of dollars to support Concern’s work in the field.

Aengus will be deeply mourned and missed by countless people in Ireland and the US, as well as across the world. His work with Concern saved innumerable lives and improved the quality of life for many millions. He was a passionate believer in education as the foundation of development, and never missed an opportunity to emphasize the critical importance of educating girls.

Aengus with former Irish President, Mary Robinson.

Aengus with former Irish president Mary Robinson.

He was a beloved friend, colleague, brother, uncle, mentor, and leader—and a champion for the absolute poorest of the poor — those who live beyond the margin of most of the world’s caring. Aengus devoted his entire life to fighting poverty with a drive, passion, and commitment that are rarely seen. All who met or knew Aengus realized he was a special breed. All who met him experienced the flame that burned so fiercely in him, and knew that this humble, self-effacing, but great man made this world less dark, less divided, less hard, and much less cold for millions.

Aengus frequently repeated the powerful line from Indian poet Tagore above: in his life, Aengus sought, by understanding and tolerance — and the immense love and fire in the belly for which he was known — to bridge the gaps in our divided world. As Aengus often said, he believed that challenge reached out beyond those who worked for Concern to all of its supporters, acting as a bridge, linking those who cared with those in need — the poorest of the poor in our world.

From these conditions of hardship, suffering, and conflict — and from great courage and commitment — Concern Worldwide was born.

A dear friend, the great poet Seamus Heaney said, of Concern and of Aengus: “Like anyone faced with the evidence of so much unstinted giving of body and spirit, work that requires at one moment heroic courage and at another a gift for the humdrum, I am constantly at a loss for words that will match the valiancy of the effort.”

As the following letter from a Concern volunteer, Elizabeth O’Brien, who passed away in 1972, expressed so beautifully, there are few people who have contributed as much to improving the lives of so much of humanity. In doing so, Aengus enjoyed life and made it brighter for all who knew him. May he rest in peace.

Dear Father Gus and all Concerned,
…What have you done to all the people you come in contact with?
…You seem to crack the hard little shells that hold us in and say,
“Come alive. Be happy. Not to worry.”
This is a wonderful gift, and the mystery becomes a clear reality. It is the mystery of love.
…Your circle of goodness will slowly widen and encompass many people.
Thank you so much for making me a part of it.
You really are
Believing in Action,
Hoping in Action,
Love in Action.
— Elizabeth O’Brien to Aengus Finucane, August 14, 1972