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By Jerry Duggan

Dan Finucane, SJ

The Jesuits have been part of Dan Finucane’s life for as long as he can remember. His father is a longtime theology professor at Saint Louis University, and Finucane himself attended three Jesuit educational institutions. Still, his decision to enter the Society took time and careful discernment.

Finucane’s family was active in Christ the King Catholic Church in University City, Mo., a St. Louis suburb. When Finucane was five years old, his family’s home was struck by lightning. They spent the next year living in hotels and apartments. While he was very young at the time, Finucane suspects this experience planted a seed in him that lingers to this day: the idea that possessions and material items can be lost at any moment, but your faith can get you through any hardship.

After an early childhood anchored in faith, Finucane attended St. Louis University High School and then Saint Louis University, where he earned a degree in theology and philosophy and began what he describes as a “messy” discernment process.

During his junior year of college, Finucane attended a four-day silent retreat where he felt a call to the priesthood. He quickly recoiled, unsettled by the strength of what he felt.

“I immediately took a step back and thought ‘Oh my gosh, I don’t know if I want that—what does this mean?’” he recalled.

He completed his undergraduate degree still unsure about a religious vocation, feeling a stronger call to be a teacher.

“Everyone in my family is an educator,” he said. “I felt that calling too, but thoughts about a religious vocation were in the background still.”

So, Finucane headed to Boston College School of Theology and Ministry for a graduate degree. After a year of service work in Zambia, Finucane was hired at his alma mater, SLU High, as a theology teacher.

Finucane in Zambia, teaching a young girl, Nomsa, to paint.

He found teaching incredibly rewarding, but still wondered if he was called to something more. He cites two conversations as formative in his ultimate discernment decision. In summer 2015, Finucane sought the advice of Fr. Ralph Hughes, SJ, a known discernment “expert.” His advice for Finucane was simple.

“He told me to keep teaching for now, since I was happy with it, but to listen for a calling to something more,” he said. “At first, I was puzzled, because I didn’t think that was too profound of an insight.”

What Fr. Hughes was referring to, the Jesuit concept of “magis” – or “more” – came to fruition in Finucane’s life soon thereafter.

“I was still satisfied in my teaching, but I wanted this to be more than a job,” he said. “I wanted it to be a life.”

Difficult decisions had to be made, and Finucane sometimes doubted that this was the right path for his life.

At an Ignatian Spirituality conference, Finucane had a conversation with a woman named Damian Zynda, who encouraged him to put things in perspective.

“She told me I shouldn’t spend so much time worrying about what my calling in life was, but that I should instead focus on developing my relationship with God,” he said. “The idea was that, if I strengthen that relationship, then I will end up where I’m supposed to be in life.”

Finucane, Jesuit author James Martin, and three SLUH students (L-R) at the Ignatian Family Teach-In.

He took that advice, and Zynda ended up being his spiritual director for two years. After more discernment, he entered the novitiate in fall 2017.

After two years at the novitiate, Finucane pronounced first vows in the Society and moved on to first studies at Loyola University Chicago, where he is in his second year. Like everyone, his life has been changed by the pandemic. Although his classes remain in session online, Finucane has not been able to do some of the more “hands-on” work of his vocation, such as engaging with people experiencing homelessness.

“As a Jesuit, I always think about and feel called to be with the ‘crucified’ in the world,” he said. “I really miss engaging with the homeless and treating them with the dignity they deserve.”

As far as future aspirations, Finucane feels called to work either with young people in education or the marginalized.

Finucane engages with Brian, a core member at L’Arche, a Kansas City organization that provides programs for persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

“I’d love to labor with God in the trenches, to be with people who are experiencing marginalization and also to be with young people, who experience a lot of fears and anxieties in their own right,” he explained.

Whatever ministries are in store for his Jesuit vocation, Finucane most of all feels that he is finally at home.

“I really enjoyed teaching but getting to live this life full-time is what I feel I was really meant to do,” he said.

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