Father Finn recognized as 'Outstanding American by Choice'

Father Dan Finn receives 'American by Choice' recognition from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services district director Denis Riordan, March 16. Pilot photo/Mark Labbe

DORCHESTER -- Father Daniel Finn was visibly moved as he prepared to receive the Outstanding American by Choice recognition presented by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services district director Denis Riordan March 16, at the Irish Pastoral Centre (IPC) in Dorchester.

"Pope Francis talks about the shepherd, the shepherd's need to have the smell of the flock on him, and what better shepherd, what better model, what better example, than Daniel Finn," Riordan told IPC staff and to the seniors from IPC's Senior Citizen Outreach Program assembled to witness Father Finn receive the recognition.

Established in 2006 by USCIS as a way to recognize significant contributions and achievements by naturalized U.S. citizens, the Outstanding American by Choice initiative has recognized over 120 people so far, including author Elie Wiesel, Pepsi CEO Indra K. Nooyi, and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

Last year, USCIS named seven Outstanding American by Choice Recipients, including Father Finn, New York Yankees pitcher Mariano Rivera, and Latin singer and actor Thalia.

While Father Finn was originally presented with the recognition last June during a ceremony in Boston, USCIS had it framed for him and it was presented to him at last week's ceremony.

After receiving the recognition to loud applause, Father Finn offered his immigration story.

He said he grew up in Kanturk, Ireland, but had an aunt who lived in Billerica. He used to look forward to her sending gifts.

"I was like a Christmas kid waiting for Santa Claus," said Father Finn.

"When we got packages of clothes from her, it was always superior to what we had at home. And when the American tourists came, I said 'Wow, they are driving big cars, wearing sunglasses -- that must be a great place,'" he said with a laugh.

His aunt sent for him when he was still a teenager, and he arrived in the U.S. on Nov. 10, 1962. It was in high school, which his aunt made him attend, that Father Finn said he decided upon becoming a priest.

"I felt like the song Amazing Grace, 'I once was lost, and now I'm found, I was blind, and now I see,' and it gave me a whole new life and chapter," he said.

Father Finn attended St. John's Seminary in Brighton, and was ordained in 1972. Just one year later, he became a U.S. citizen.

"You know, I feel like growing up in Ireland and now being part of America as we are, I think we have the best of both worlds in us," he said.

After co-founding the IPC in 1987, Father Finn served as the pastor of St. Mark Parish in Dorchester from 1993-2015, concurrently working as the pastor of St. Ambrose Parish in Dorchester from 2010-2015.

Through his leadership at St. Mark, where the IPC made its home before moving to Dorchester's St. Brendan Parish in 2011, a number of services were initiated, including a Citizenship and English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) program, a youth summer program, faith sharing groups, and a food pantry.

Additionally, Father Finn helped St. Mark Parish secure a grant from USCIS in 2009, allowing the parish to continue growing its outreach programs, specifically those for immigrants.

Currently, Father Finn serves on the board of directors at the IPC, and works as the chaplain and the archdiocesan coordinator there.

Riordan, speaking with The Pilot before the presentation, said Father Finn "belongs to the Irish. He belongs to the Vietnamese. He belongs to the Chinese. He belongs to the Cape Verdeans, and to the Haitians and people from Latin America and the Caribbean -- he belongs to everyone, and people truly love him and respond to him," he said.

"He's touched so many human lives; I would say countless," Riordan continued.

Beyond its Senior Citizen Outreach Program, which aims to provide seniors with activities and companionship, the IPC offers a number of other services to Irish immigrants, including employment and housing assistance, immigration and U.S. citizenship assistance, social and family outreach, and even free monthly walk-in legal clinics.

"We currently have two clinics every month, one in Dorchester and one in Quincy, and at the clinics we have a bunch of volunteers and pro-bono lawyers who come and donate their time. We assess people for residency, for visas, for citizenship," said Kieran C. O'Sullivan, immigration and citizenship advisor at the IPC.

Kathleen Rohan, deputy director of Operations, added that the IPC works hard to provide assistance to not only those in the Boston-area, but also those in Ireland who plan on moving to New England.

"In essence, we're the organization with the feet on the street, touching everyone in the community in some manner," she said.

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