Francis J. Finn

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Francis J. Finn
Born (1859-10-04)October 4, 1859
St. Louis, MO
Died November 2, 1928(1928-11-02) (aged 69)
Cincinnati, OH
Occupation Catholic priest, Novelist
Nationality American
Period 1800, 1990
Genre adventure, juvenile

Father Francis J. Finn, (born St. Louis, Missouri, 1859, died Cincinnati, OH, November 2, 1928).[1] wa an American Jesuit priest who wrote a series of 27 popular novels for young people. The books contain fun stories, likeable characters and themes that remain current in today's world. Each story conveys an important moral precept.


The son of Irish immigrant parents, Francis J. Finn was born on October 4, 1859, in St. Louis, Missouri; there he grew up, attending parochial schools. As a boy, Francis was deeply impressed with Cardinal Wiseman’s famous novel of the early Christian martyrs, Fabiola. After that, religion really began to mean something to him. 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; but then his fervor cooled, his grades dropped, and his vocation might have been lost except for Fr. Charles Coppens. Fr. 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 the saving of 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.” During his seminary days Mr. Finn was assigned as prefect of St. Mary’s boarding school or “college” in St. Mary's College, Kansas[2] (which became the fictional “St. Maure’s”). There he learned — often the hard way — how to teach and discipline boys. One afternoon while supervising a class who were busy writing a composition, Mr. Finn thought of how they represented to him the typical American Catholic boy. With nothing else to do, he took up pencil and paper. “Why not write about such boys as are before me?” he asked himself. In no time at all he had dashed off the first chapter of Tom Playfair. When he read it aloud to the class, they loved it and, of course, they wanted more.

Francis was finally ordained to the priesthood in 1893, and after some time at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, he came to St. Xavier College in Cincinnati. This was also the year that Tom Playfair was published. Fr. Finn’s publisher, Benziger Brothers, was to call Tom Playfair “the most successful book for boys and girls ever published in the English language.” Fr. Finn would write 27 books in all, which would be translated into as many as ten languages, and even into Braille. 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. Children especially loved him. It is said that at his death in 1928, children by the thousands turned out to mourn their departed friend. It was Fr. Finn’s lifelong conviction that “One of the greatest things in the world is to get the right book into the hands of the right boy or girl. No one can indulge in reading to any extent without being largely influenced for better or worse.”[2] In 1904 he founded the St. Xavier Commercial School for girls and served as its first director.[3]

According to the American Catholic Who’s Who, Fr. Finn is “universally acknowledged the foremost Catholic writer of fiction for young people.” [4]


  • Candle Dreams
  • Sunshine and Freckles
  • On the Run
  • Bobby in Movieland
  • Facing Danger
  • His Luckiest Year" (a sequel to Lucky Bob)
  • Lucky Bob
  • Percy Wynn; or, Making a Boy of Him[5]
  • Tom Playfair; or, Making a Start
  • "But Thy Love and Thy Grace"
  • Claude Lightfoot; or, How the Problem Was Solved
  • Harry Dee; or, Working It Out
  • Ethelred Preston; or, the Adventures of a Newcomer
  • The Best Foot Forward; and Other Stories
  • Cupid of Campion
  • That Football Game, and What Came of It
  • The Fairy of the Snows
  • That Office Boy
  • His First and Last Appearance
  • Mostly Boys: Short Stories
  • Father Finn, S.J.: The Story of His Life Told by Himself for His Friends Young and Old (edited and with an introduction by Daniel S. Lord, S.J.) (1929) [6]


  1. ^ "Rev. Francis J. Finn, Author, Dies at 70: Writer of Many Popular Books for Boys Succumbs in Cincinnati" (fee required). The New York Times (The New York Times Company). 1928-11-03. p. 14. 
  2. ^ a b "Tom Playfair's School: The History of St. Mary's Academy & College" - webpage
  3. ^ Hauck, Karl; Mark D. Motz (Fall 2006). "The Legacy of St. Francis Xavier Is Alive and Well in Cincinnati: St. Xavier High School" (PDF). Partners Magazine (Chicago Province, Society of Jesus). pp. 23–24. Retrieved 2007-06-08. 
  4. ^ Biographical sketch from various sources, including an article in Crusade magazine, which was based on Fr. Finn’s memoirs as edited and published by Fr. Daniel A. Lord, S.J., in a book entitled Fr. Finn, S.J. (Cincinnati, Benziger Brothers, 1929).
  5. ^ Most of Finn's novels are published by TAN Books & Publishers, Rockford, IL.
  6. ^ A list of Finn's novels, with dates of publication, appears in Who's Who in America, v. XV (1928-1929), p. 766.