Fr. Jack Finucane: 1937 – 2017, “A Legacy of Incredible Humanitarian Significance”

June 8, 2017

Father Jack Finucane, a founding and defining leader of Concern Worldwide, passed away yesterday at the age of 80.

Fr. Finucane, a lifetime humanitarian, was a leading figure in the growth of Concern Worldwide, guiding the organization in reaching millions of vulnerable people across the world.

“What Jack has achieved may never be fully quantified but he has saved and improved the lives of millions of people caught up in crisis and poverty. Sorely missed, he leaves behind a legacy of incredible humanitarian significance.”

Jack Finucane

Father Jack Finucane

“An unassuming leader, he brought intelligence, drive and passion to what is now Ireland’s leading humanitarian and development organization,” said CEO of Concern Worldwide, Dominic MacSorley. “Along with his brother, Aengus, they were a bridge between Ireland’s long tradition of missionary work defining contemporary humanitarian response characterized by professional, practical, compassionate solutions on the ground. Together, they brought a nation with them.”

He further remarked: “What Jack has achieved may never be fully quantified but he has saved and improved the lives of millions of people caught up in crisis and poverty. Sorely missed, he leaves behind a legacy of incredible humanitarian significance.”

Born in Limerick in 1937 and ordained a priest in 1963, Fr. Finucane was sent to Nigeria with the Holy Ghost Fathers and was at the heart of the distribution of aid flown into Biafra by Concern and other relief organizations. Following the surrender of Biafra, he was arrested by the Nigerian authorities and spent several weeks in prison before being deported. He then went to the United States where he spent a period in parish Ministry and studied in San Francisco for a Masters in Education. He would remain wholeheartedly committed to his spiritual service as a Catholic priest throughout his life, just as he firmly upheld Concern’s secular, non-sectarian identity. 

In 1985, Jack brought a young Bono on his first trip to Ethiopia and the singer has credited him with having a huge influence on his thinking with regard to international development.

Launching a crisis response

In 1973, he was posted to Bangladesh, a country he loved and returned to often. But it was the 1984 famine in Ethiopia where Fr. Finucane’s knowledge of the country and his considerable diplomatic skills enabled Concern to mount a massive response to the crisis. By the time that famine received worldwide attention, Concern had a team of 46 expatriates and 890 national staff on the ground. He was an advisor to Live Aid’s Bob Geldof, who called him “a huge man of immensely strong moral character.” In 1985, he brought a young Bono on his first trip to Ethiopia and the singer has credited him with having a huge influence on his thinking with regard to international development.

Fr. Jack Finucane oversees emergency aid arriving in Biafra, Nigeria in the late 1960’s. Photo: Concern Worldwide

In fact, in 2004, he described Fr. Finucane as “the John Wayne of aid workers”.

In 1994, he witnessed over one million people fleeing from Rwanda into Goma, Zaire, and two years later he saw the same population stream across the border to return home. A powerful driving force, he visited the region almost every month, encouraging and supporting new and innovative resettlement programs that included supporting hundreds of thousands caught up in horrific prison conditions or reuniting more than 30,000 separated and unaccompanied children.

A fearless fight against poverty

Fr. Finucane formally retired in 2002 but never stopped working for Concern. In 2004, without hesitation, he abandoned all plans for the summer and flew to Sudan to lead Concern’s response to the Darfur crisis and later went on to oversee Concern’s operations in tsunami-affected Sri Lanka. Throughout, he remained passionate and engaged in everything to do with Concern including serving on the board of Concern Worldwide US.

Fr. Jack meeting with women at a cooperative in Bangladesh called the Heart Handicraft Women’s Project. Jack and his brother, Aengus, founded the project in the 70s to help improve the income of marginalized women. Photo: Concern Worldwide.

Active to the end, Fr. Finucane walked around Ireland’s Inishturk Island, off the coast of Galway a few weeks ago with 70 Concern volunteers he had worked with over the years. His work will continue and he will remain an inspiration to all of us in the global fight against poverty.

“Fr. Jack was my first boss when I joined Concern as a volunteer in 1983” said Áine Fay, President of Concern Worldwide U.S. “He was and continued to be one of the most committed individuals I’ve had the privilege to work with in the fight against poverty in some of the most vulnerable countries in our world. He was a tough teacher but his mentorship and guidance over those two years are the reason I am still with Concern.

“He was a very modest man and did not relish being in the limelight unless it was in pursuit of his drive to alleviate poverty and injustice.”

“I had the honor of working with Jack in other contexts and he was unrelenting in his resolve to work with the most vulnerable people and challenged us constantly to ensure we remained committed to our vision of a world where no one lives in poverty.

Jack Finucane in 2015

Jack Finucane (far right) attending the launch of his bother’s biography “Aengus Finucane In the Heart of Concern.” With Dominic MacSorley (far left), author Deirdre Purcell (middle left), and the first female president of Ireland Mrs. Mary Robinson (middle right). Photo: Liam Burke

“Even in his retirement, when we met for coffee and a chat, the conversation always turned to the work on the ground — were we doing the right things, in the right places with the right people? He was also a very modest man and did not relish being in the limelight unless it was in pursuit of his drive to alleviate poverty and injustice. He will be sadly missed by his family, his Spiritan community and by Concern. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam (Rest in Peace), Jack.”

A nod from Ireland’s president

In response to Jack’s passing, Ireland’s President Michael D. Higgins said: “Jack Finucane’s lifelong commitment to protecting the dignity of some of the world’s poorest and most marginalized people will stand not only as a lasting tribute to all that is good about mankind, but is exemplary in its invitation not to avert our gaze from our current challenges of global hunger and poverty.”

Carrying on Jack’s legacy

“I was honored to meet Fr. Jack Finucane shortly after becoming CEO earlier this year. I saw it as essential to my induction as a leader because when you join Concern, you learn early on that the legacy of Jack and his brother Fr. Aengus, who we lost in 2009, is the very fiber of the organization,” explained Colleen Kelly, CEO of Concern Worldwide US. 

“We had a fascinating and affecting conversation — typically much less about him than Concern and our work. That meeting takes on so much added significance today. On behalf of Concern Worldwide US, our staff, Board and thousands of supporters, I join colleagues and friends in Ireland, the UK, and around the world in mourning the loss of Fr. Jack. We remain inspired and emboldened each day by the example of his quiet but relentless humanitarian spirit, and the millions of lives touched by his work.”


Want to receive updates Concern’s work across 24 countries?

Yes, keep me updated on Concern's work