By Lou Baldwin
Special to The CS&T
Grey Nun of the Sacred Heart Sister Mary Finnick at 77 is supposed to be retired, but don’t you believe it. Certainly, the folks in Port Au Prince, Haiti, know better. That’s where she was on Jan. 12, when the disastrous earthquake killed 300,000 Haitians. She was running Matthew 25 Guest House, a residential program that matches volunteers from places like the United States with the needy in impoverished countries.
That’s where she will be in a week or so, helping the survivors cope with the aftermath of Hurricane Tomas, the latest disaster to hit the Americas’ poorest country. This is just the latest phase of a satisfying 60 years in religious life.
Born in Lowell, Mass., she had an aunt who was a Grey Nun, and that influenced her decision to enter the congregation straight out of high school.
“I have to admit I didn’t think I would stay, but it has been a very good life for me,” she said.
As was the case with so many women religious, after her three-year novitiate her career started as a primary school teacher in Ogdensburg, N.Y., and Lowell. After four years her congregation sent her to D’Youville College to study nursing.
Over the decades among other assignments she taught or worked at a number of colleges, including D’Youville (named for St. Marguerite D’Youville, the Grey Nuns’ foundress) Temple and Widener universities in this area, as well as the University of Buffalo. Along the way she continued her education ultimately obtaining a doctorate in education administration.
After retirement from the University of Buffalo in 1999, she worked briefly as a parish nurse in Georgia then as facilitation coordinator (superior) for the Grey Nuns in Yardley. She’s been in Haiti since 2005, running the Matthew 25 Guest House and building relationships with the Haitian people, which put her in a unique position to make a meaningful contribution to relief efforts.
From the outset, Matthew 25 emptied its storerooms to provide emergency medical supplies and foodstuffs to the many now-homeless people in the wake of the earthquake.
There was a large soccer field near the guesthouse and Sister Mary and the other Matthew 25 volunteers already had a good rapport with the soccer club members. The soccer field very quickly became a tent city and, thanks to tents supplied by Lions International, housed 2,000 people, a number which has now dwindled to 500 as families ultimately found other shelter, Sister Mary said.
However, the suffering of the Haitian people is far from over.
For whatever reason, the vast bulk of the money pledged or collected for Haitian relief after the earthquake has yet to be disbursed, and that is true for government, church and private donations, Sister Mary maintains.
The greatest single problem, she believes, is that governments and agencies have come into Haiti with a set idea of the needs.
“I’m not naïve, I know there is a lot of corruption,” she said. “But there needs to be more asking Haitians what they want than telling them what they need,” she said.
After a brief visit home, Sister Mary will be headed back to Haiti Nov. 17. There is much more work to be done.
For spiritual inspiration she relies on St. Marguerite D’Youville, who overcame great difficulties and opposition in her work among outcasts in her native Quebec.
Matthew 25 isn’t bad either – “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me.”
Donations to assist Matthew 25 in Haiti can be sent to Matthew 25 Guest House, c/o Parish Twinning Program, 309 Windemere Woods Drive, Nashville, TN 37215.
Lou Baldwin is a member of St. Leo Parish and a freelance writer.