He says gratitude keeps him on track

By Dolores Madlener | Staff writer
Sunday, November 6, 2011

Father James Finno is pastor of St. Stephen, Deacon and Martyr Catholic Church in southwest suburban Tinley Park. (Brian J. Morowczynski / Catholic New World)

He is: Father James (“Jay”) Finno, former pastor of St. Lawrence O’- Toole in Matteson; founding and current pastor, St. Stephen, Deacon and Martyr Parish in Tinley Park. Ordained in 1972.

Youth: He grew up in St. Thomas More Parish (from second grade). “Actually I was born and baptized around 69th and Aberdeen, in Sacred Heart Parish. I’m the oldest of five; one brother passed away at age 36 of cancer about 20 years ago.

“Dad was a quality control engineer at Spiegel’s. My mother was a professional copy writer for catalogues and advertisements. They met through a WWII army buddy of my dad’s. My nickname is ‘Jay.’ I was a ‘Junior’ and mother didn’t want two James or Jimmies. She named me ‘Jay’ and it’s been that way ever since.”

Went to Leo High School, not Quigley. “I tried out for a basketball team and lasted the first cut. It was clear I wasn’t going to make my living in athletics. I was the editor of the school newspaper and different things.” Summers he worked at Spiegel’s warehouse and for a printing company.

Priesthood: “Father Joe Auer and Father Bill Moriarity were good priest models in my parish, and I’d gotten close to a couple brothers at Leo. I didn’t think seriously about priesthood until the end of my junior year. My family had a strong faith. They encouraged me, but said if I didn’t feel it was right for me, don’t feel pressured to stay. It was the perfect attitude.”

Life learning: “It’s been good. My first assignment for seven years was at St. Mary’s in the center of Evanston. It had people far wealthier than anyone I knew personally and those who were far poorer than anyone I knew personally. I’ve learned from every place I’ve been, from people’s life experiences and also their very profound faith. People I’ve met through ecumenical and interfaith contacts have been enriching.

“I’ve come to appreciate the lay professionals in the church, as well as deacons (who are not laity but who work in other jobs as well). I’ve been enriched by them. It’s a great change since my ordination 40 years ago.”

Starting a parish ‘from scratch’: “It’s been a wonderful experience. I didn’t envision myself ever doing that. I had a lot of help from the people. There are two deacons who lived out here who called me before I got here and offered their help.

“Also I’d been in the south suburbs since 1979 and knew people who were helpful. It’s a small group when you start, and you don’t have big bills. There’s a closeness. We always talk about our first Christmas. We had about 70 households — now we have 3,800-plus.”

Down time: “I like to read, and like sports. I’m a big White Sox fan. I took a week off and visited my sister in West Virginia and read ‘What It Means to be a White Sox,’ by Bob Vorwald. The last book I read was ‘The Help,’ by Kathryn Stockett.”

Favorite Scripture: The Advent readings from Isaiah and Ezekiel about the new heart and new spirit, and the next chapter about dry bones and God giving life. We’ve seen people who seem to have their spirit drained out of them at times, but with trust in God you can give them life — that’s a very powerful thing for me.”