Fr Jack Finucane, co-founder of aid agency Concern, dies aged 80

Missionary who helped to organise Biafra aid campaign was cited by Bono as a major influence

Fr Jack Finucane who helped to set up the aid agency Concern  and continued to work with the organisation under 2002.

Fr Jack Finucane who helped to set up the aid agency Concern and continued to work with the organisation under 2002.

 

Fr Jack Finucane, the Limerick-born priest who played a leading role for decades in one of Ireland’s largest aid agencies, Concern has died unexpectedly aged 80.

Fr Jack and his late brother Fr Aengus earned worldwide recognition for their famine relief efforts in the late 1960s when they shipped thousands of tons of food to starving Biafrans in West Africa.

The Nigerian authorities, who were trying to suppress the breakaway state, did not welcome the missionaries’ work, and many, including Fr Jack, were briefly imprisoned in 1970 before being expelled.

The Biafra aid campaign led to the founding of Concern Worldwide, of which he was a director until his death. Fr Jack died suddenly on Wednesday afternoon in Kimmage Manor where he had been attending an annual retreat.

Born in Limerick in February 1937, he was ordained in 1963 and joined the Spiritan (Holy Ghost) missionary society before he was sent to the then little-known Biafra in Nigeria.

By summer 1968, however, 6,000 children were dying there every week. There were 650 refugee camps holding 700,000 people. Four million more had beenforced to leave their homes.

Truck convoys

Raising the alarm in Ireland, the priest and a small group of others set up Africa Concern, the forerunner to Concern Worldwide. Fr Jack helped bring food from Ireland, which was sent in truck convoys .

By the end of the war his organisation had organised daily flights for 11 continuous months. At the end of the war in 1970, Fr Jack and his fellow Spiritans were expelled.

Later, he taught for a time in Rockwell College in Tipperary before heading up Concern Worldwide’s work in Bangladesh after the bloody separation of East and West Pakistan.

The following year he went to Ethiopia to organise the aid agency’s response to a famine in the country until political instability forced the his departure three years later.

He returned to Bangladesh where he spent six years as Concern’s country director before going back to Ethiopia in 1984 to assist in yet another famine in which one million people died.

There, he met U2 singer, Bono who later cited the Limerick priest as a major influence on him. He later advised Bob Geldof and his Live Aid team on how to spend the money they had raised.

Returning Dublin, he worked as regional director for Concern Worldwide until he retired in 2002. In all, he worked on 19 emergencies including the Rwandan genocide in 1994, Sri Lanka, Sierra Leone and Somalia.

Praising him, the chief executive of Concern Worldwide, Dominic MacSorley siad he had been “an unassuming leader”, who had brought “intelligence, drive and passion” to Concern.

Together with his brother, Mr McSorley said Fr Finucane was “a bridge” between Ireland’s missionary tradition and modern-day development aid: “Together, they brought a nation with them,” he said.