Remembrance of the Life of Sister Nancy Finneran SL
In Granite City, Ill., at the height of the Depression, Martin Joseph Finneran and his wife Fannie Price Finneran welcomed their fifth and final child and named her Nancy Jane. Before the end of the hard times the family had relocated to St. Louis, where Nancy attended kindergarten at Dozier School in the West End, moving on to St. Rose of Lima School through eighth grade and then to Loretto Academy on Lafayette, graduating in 1952 with the final class before that school closed.
Of Nancy’s childhood in a family with four siblings there is no mention in Nancy’s file; nor is there information about her parents. But that she cared and was cared for in her family is evidenced by her closeness in her adult years to her mother and to Betty, Julie, Martin and Tom. Her father had died of lung cancer while she was in high school.
After 12 years at school with the Sisters of Loretto, it is not surprising that Nancy aspired to join them. She worked some months in the mail room of Scruggs Department Store, then arrived at Loretto in October 1952 with a distinguished group of young women. Nancy was received on Foundation Day 1953, the last year that reception and vow ceremonies were held on this date. As Sister Gerard, she made first vows on May 24, 1955, and left with her classmates for the St. Louis House of Studies where two years later she received her bachelor’s degree in elementary education.
For the next 14 years Sister Gerard taught in Colorado at Blessed Sacrament in Denver, Holy Cross in Deerfield, St Mary’s Academy and All Souls School in Englewood. At St. Mary’s she served a year as grade school principal. Then, in St Louis for a year, again known by her baptismal name, Sister Nancy was among the earliest tutors at the Loretto Learning Center; she lived that year with the Loretto Community at Visitation-Holy Ghost, an inner city parish not far from where she grew up. Next Nancy went to Louisville. She had earned a master’s in teaching, with an emphasis in mathematics, at Webster and for a year she taught seventh and eighth graders at Loretto on Broadway.
In 1973 and for the next eight years Nancy explored opportunities for more direct social service and political action in Louisville and the Commonwealth of Kentucky. When NETWORK began in the early ’70s, Nancy trained as an intern, then served as Kentucky coordinator for the national organization of religious women which worked, as Nancy said, “to make participation in political life easier for people.” Nancy studied community development with other Loretto members at the University of Louisville, served on the Peace and Justice Commission of the Archdiocese of Louisville, and created the Loretto Awareness Project for political and social advocacy in the Louisville area. She believed in collaborative organizations and purposeful action. A partial list of her active lifelong memberships include the League of Women Voters, the Civil Liberties Union and NAWR.
A year’s respite at Mundelein College in 1981-82 allowed Nancy to investigate religious studies. At the end of the year she composed a manifesto in the class she had with Brian Swimme and Matthew Fox. She wrote in part:
“I want to say ‘I am here in this cosmos with a sense of play, of prayer and of action in social justice.’ … I come out of [this year] to challenge myself … This new day is one in which I will act out of my own convictions, with the conviction that I have the ability to act over and against our culture. … If religion is to give voice to what can be, this is where I would like to put my voice. I would like to influence the ‘what can be’ as … equality for men and women, new diplomatic solutions instead of wars, and the transformation of our lives toward truth.”
For the next 30 years, the remainder of Nancy’s working life, she devoted herself to work for “what can be” on behalf of the Loretto Community. Fourteen years she worked on the central staff as resource coordinator for the Loretto Justice and Peace office, then a dozen years at the United Nations as NGO representative and as volunteer to support Betty Obal SL in the NGO position. Finally for several years again in St. Louis Nancy served as a board member and volunteer with a group called Senior Connections. She was a member of the Kiwanis Club of St. Louis, whose goal is serving children of the world.
The files of the Loretto Archive are rich with the evidence of Nancy’s contributions to a variety of Loretto’s advocacy works: the Latin America/Caribbean Committee and its accompaniment service, the Investment Committee, the Sister Community work with the Holy Family Sisters. Nancy wrote prolific reports and inspirational accounts of her interactions with peoples from around the world. She wrote in practical, action terms, inviting Loretto members and many others to invest themselves in the affairs of our day.
In a 1986 article in the Denver Catholic Register featuring Loretto’s new Latin American/Caribbean Committee, Nancy’s remarks reveal both her practical approach to the work of social justice and her basic hopeful nature: “Writing to your congressperson may sound mundane, but it’s absolutely necessary. If people let the legislators know their feelings, it’s pretty safe to say the vote [in Congress will follow their wishes.]”
In a survey of Loretto members’ present and future plans, Nancy wrote: “I don’t think I separate my personal, Gospel and Loretto values. I would like my behavior to correspond to my ideals, but often there is a sizable gap. … In liturgy, I would like to become a person celebrating, not a person at a celebration. … I want to continue [having] time alone, with art and writing, as I do now. … I hope I’ll be a nice person to be with; that in some way I can be helpful to others; that I continue being an advocate for important needs in society.”
Nancy died on Foundation Day 2020, 67 years to the day of her reception into the Sisters of Loretto.