“Our Kind of Priest”

One of our Good Shepherd Inclusive Catholic Community members,Patricia Byrne, sent us this story about a wonderful people’s priest in Boston. She said “this is your kind of priest”, and she is right. It is by Kevin Cullen of the Boston Globe,June 1, 2015. As we pray for vocations let us say thanks for Fr. Dan Finn and pray for many more women and men like him to answer the call to the priesthood and to serving all of God’s people,especially the poorest and most outcast. Thanks to Patricia for sending this.

Love and prayers,

Pastor Judy Lee, RCWP

Parishoners said goodbye to Father Dan Finn after 22 years at St. Mark’s in Dorchester.
Parishoners said goodbye to Father Dan Finn after 22 years at St. Mark’s in Dorchester.

By Kevin Cullen GLOBE COLUMNIST JUNE 01, 2015
The rain was holding off and the people who had attended the Spanish Mass at St. Mark’s were holding on, enjoying the vibe at the back of the church and on the steps overlooking Dorchester Avenue.

Some stayed for the noon Mass, too, because it was Father Dan’s last at St. Mark’s.
Staying at any one church for 22 years is a rarity these days. The Rev. Dan Finn arrived at St. Mark’s the same year that Bill Clinton arrived at the White House, and he had a much longer, better run.

Father Dan’s last Mass was more than a celebration of one priest’s service. It was a metaphor for a changing Boston, a changed Dorchester. Father Dan’s replacement is a terrific 44-year-old priest, the Rev. Linh Nguyen, who moved from Vietnam to Dorchester with his family when he was 15.

One of the first priests he met in Dorchester was Father Dan, then at St. Peter’s. He was still learning English, but Father Dan’s smile was easy to understand in any language.

Father Linh is the first Vietnamese pastor in Dorchester but won’t be the last. It’s a natural transition, the ecclesiastical equivalent of the Irish pubs giving way to Vietnamese restaurants from Savin Hill to Ashmont.

On Sunday, as Father Dan made his way to the back of the church for the opening procession, spontaneous applause washed over him. He blushed.

There’s an old joke that people were loath to hang their winter jackets near the door at St. Mark’s because Father Dan would give them away. Except it wasn’t a joke. He really did that. He let homeless people sleep in the church, too.

“What’s the use of recognizing Jesus in bread and wine in here if we don’t recognize him out there on the street?” Father Dan said, pointing toward Dot Ave.

A church, any church, is useless if it is defined and confined by walls. That’s why he had his own version of the Freedom Trail painted down the middle aisle at St. Mark’s, leading outside.

“We should always be trying to make the connection between the sanctuary and the street, the church and the world,” he said.

On the altar, Father Dan was surrounded by priests and deacons whose faces were black and white and yellow and brown. The congregation was the same mosaic. There were even red faces in the pews; Irish construction workers are not big on sunscreen.

Father Dan paid tribute to Archbishop Oscar Romero, shot dead in El Salvador 35 years ago.

“He stood for the poor and those on the margins,” he said.

You could say the same of Father Dan Finn. In part because he is an immigrant, Father Dan was especially kind to newcomers. He ran citizenship and English as a Second Language classes at the church.

“You don’t have to join the Navy to see the world,” he said. “Just come to St. Mark’s.”

Because he is Irish, Father Dan couldn’t resist singing from the pulpit. He serenaded us with Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Love Changes Everything.” He quoted Emily Dickinson, then urged us to “see with the eyes of the heart.”

When the Mass had ended, Elizabeth Metelus, a native of Haiti, embraced Father Dan at the back of the church and said she didn’t know whether to laugh or cry because she felt in between.

On the steps outside, people recreated a group photo from years ago, lest the bean counters question the vitality of their parish. Father Dan stood in the middle of them, a Dorchester rainbow, smiling.

Passing cars on Dot Ave honked in approval.

There was a reception waiting in the church hall, but everybody lingered, daring the rain, hugging Father Dan.

The bagpipes faded and people clamored around Father Dan, posing for photos. Old ladies hugged him so tight it looked like he might break.

Somebody asked him how he felt.

“Blessed,” Father Dan Finn said, looking around one last time with the eyes of his heart. “I feel blessed.”

Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at cullen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeCullen.

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