Father Finian McDonald, OSB
Monk of Saint John's Abbey
Robert Anthony McDonald was born on December 23, 1928, the youngest of five sons born to George Thomas and Nora Madeline (Connley) McDonald in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on December 23, 1928. Robert completed his early education in Minneapolis, attending Whitney and Prescott elementary schools. Reflecting on his earliest days of church ministry, Robert recounts: "Around the age of ten I started to serve Mass. I remember the first time I recited the Latin prayers for Father Henry Sledz, then our assistant, that I had a difficult time to stutter them out. Guess we both thought I'd make a poor server. Little did I know then what a tremendous effect and help this priest was to have on my formation and development in our future contact together." Despite a lifelong speech impediment, Robert was nonetheless convinced that "serving at the altar brought me closer to the physical aspects of serving God." Robert attended Edison and De LaSalle high schools, graduating from the latter in 1946. He enrolled in the University of Minnesota, finishing his associate of arts degree in 1948.
Thereafter he worked at the U.S. Army Security Agency until 1950. Reflecting on his military experience, he later wrote: "Just how a tour of duty in the army affected my remote preparation for the priesthood is difficult to define. Perhaps it was a combination of seeing how other people lived, both those of other countries and the conduct of the men in my own outfit, and having a desire to help these people, thinking myself more capable of understanding their problems."
After his work in the army, he enrolled in Saint John's University where he graduated with a B.A. in philosophy in 1956. In this same year, he also made his first profession as a monk of Saint John's Abbey, taking the name of Finian. Upon completing priesthood studies at Saint John's, he was ordained a priest in 1962. Continuing his education at Boston College, he was awarded an M. Ed. in psychology (1971), receiving further training in psychiatric counseling at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.
Father Finian began his active ministry as pastoral associate at Holy Family Mission in Cloquet, Minnesota, in 1962–63, but most of his ministerial assignments thereafter were at Saint John's University. There he served as floor prefect in Benet Hall from 1962 through 1967. During this same time period, he also worked as SJU director of special events and dean of men. He was freshman academic director from 1963 through 1967, and also held several other SJU directorships: business placement (1963–67), counseling (1968–71; 1980–82), and academic advising (1983–88). Father Finian was a member of the counseling center staff for twelve years (1968–80), as well as a faculty resident in Patrick Hall from 1967 until 1982.
As a missionary monk, Father Finian ministered at St. Anselm's Priory, Tokyo, Japan, from 1988 through 1992, and then again at St. Augustine's Monastery, Nassau, Bahamas, in 1998 and 1999. He returned to Fujimi, Japan, to serve at Holy Trinity Priory in 1999. In the midst of his other assignments at Saint John's, Father Finian was a skilled barber for the monastic community and head barber from 1963–98, even though he continued cutting monks' hair for many years thereafter. His stint as assistant sacristan at Saint John's Abbey continued from 1992 through 1998, and then again in 2002.
Father Finian was adept at arranging flowers, and he earned an advanced certificate in this Japanese art from the Ohara School of Ikebana in Tokyo. He had a special way with orchids and won several awards for his prize specimens. He loved to delight and surprise his confreres with outstanding floral arrangements in various monastic spaces and university offices.
Father Finian described himself as "resident abbey humorist," and loved "clowning" with his confreres. He brightened everyone's day with his vivacious sense of humor. Besides regaling his confreres with his sharp wit, he enjoyed bicycling and startled many unwary walkers with toots from his handle-bar horn.
In his later years, various allegations of sexual misconduct subjected Finian to restrictions and therapy. Father Finian died on February 9 in a hospice care facility. He is survived by his nephew, Robert McDonald and niece, Mary Ann McDonald, and the community at Saint John's Abbey.
The monks, family, and friends will celebrate the Mass of Christian Burial for Father Finian on February 17 in Saint John's Abbey and University Church with interment in Saint John's Cemetery following the service. We ask each community member to offer two Masses according to the manner of his participation in the priesthood of Christ. We commend our brother Finian to your prayers.
Abbot John Klassen OSB
and the monks of Saint John's Abbey