Image of Francis J. Finn


Lifetime: 1859 - 1928 Passed: ≈ 95 years ago


Catholic, Priest, Novelist


United States

Francis J. Finn

Father Francis J. Finn was an American Jesuit priest who has been called the "Catholic Horatio Alger". He wrote a series of 27 popular novels for young people, which contain likeable characters and adventure, and emphasize the important of prayer and keeping true to your faith values.

Francis J. Finn was born on October 4, 1859, in St. Louis, Missouri. His parents, John Finn and Mary Whyte Finn, were both Irish immigrants. He attended parochial schools. As a boy, Francis was deeply impressed with Cardinal Wiseman’s famous novel of the early Christian martyrs, Fabiola. Eleven-year-old Francis was a voracious reader; he read the works of Charles Dickens, devouring Nicholas Nickleby and The Pickwick Papers. From his First Communion at age 12, Francis began to desire to become a Jesuit priest. Fr. Charles Coppens urged Francis to apply himself to his Latin, to improve it by using an all-Latin prayerbook, and to read good Catholic books. Fr. Finn credited his vocation to this advice and to his membership in the Sodality of Our Lady.

He entered the Society of Jesus in 1879 after graduating from St. Louis University. Francis began his Jesuit novitiate and seminary studies on March 24. As a young Jesuit scholastic, he suffered from repeated bouts of sickness. He would be sent home to recover, would return in robust health, then would come down with another ailment. Normally this would have been seen as a sign that he did not have a vocation, yet his superiors kept him on. Fr. Finn commented, “God often uses instruments most unfit to do His work.”

In 1881 Finn was assigned as a prefect of St. Mary’s boarding school or “college” in St. Mary's College, Kansas. Francis was ordained to the priesthood in 1891, and after some time at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, he came to St. Xavier College in Cincinnati. Fr. Finn spent many years of his priestly life at St. Xavier’s. There he was well loved, and it is said that wherever he went if he took a taxi, ate at a restaurant, attended a baseball game people would not take his money for their services, but instead would press money into his hand for his many charities. During the 1920s Fr. Finn served as a trustee of Xavier University.

In 1904 he served as the first director of the St. Xavier Commercial School for girls, which offered a two-year course of study including stenography, book-keeping, and typesetting.

Father Francis J. Finn died in Cincinnati, Ohio, on November 2, 1928.

It was Father Finn who in 1925 came up with the nickname for the Xavier University athletic teams, "The Musketeers". The University bestows the Father Francis J. Finn, S.J. Award on the member of the graduating class who best exemplifies qualities of Father Finn's fictional heroes: strong spiritual values, leadership and breadth of interest.

Finn's children's stories continue to be read, particularly in home school curriculums.

Books by Francis J. Finn

Tom Playfair; or Making a Start  Cover image

Tom Playfair; or Making a Start

Family Short Story School Ship Catholicism

The story opens with 10-year-old Tom Playfair being quite a handful for his well-meaning but soft-hearted aunt. Mr. Playfair decides to ship his son off to St. Maure's boarding school — an all-boys academy run by Jesuits — to shape him up, as well as...

Percy Wynn, or Making a Boy of Him Cover image

Percy Wynn, or Making a Boy of Him

Family School Religion Courage Catholicism

In this volume, which follows the author's popular book "Tom Playfair", a new boy is just arriving at St. Maure's boarding school. Percy Wynn has grown up as the only boy in a family of 10 girls. He has never played with boys before, and no one looki...