Edward Mischel, director of community psychiatry at Wayne State University in Detroit, was in the seminary at Sacred Heart about 10 years after Finn started there, in the late 1970s.
Mischel, who completed four years of college at the seminary before discerning that he was not called to the priesthood, told CNA that he chose Finn for his spiritual director and remembers her fondly. They still maintain contact to this day.
“She’s been this quiet, spiritual, loving, easy-going person,” Mischel told CNA. “The guys in the seminary, they adore her.”
News of the allegations of sexual misconduct in the early 1970s was “disheartening,” Mischel said, but he rejected any insinuations that Finn “was dominant or in this old boy’s club, that’s like the antithesis of her. I’ve never seen that in the 30, 40 years I’ve known her, nothing like that at all.”
Mischel said he knows Finn to be a staunch advocate for the people of Detroit, and a very kind and forgiving person.
When asked if he had any concerns that she was placed in charge of young seminarians, after having been accused of sexual misconduct with young women, Mischel said he was not concerned, because he had seen “nothing like that at all” by Finn against the seminarians.
But not all former seminarians of Sacred Heart remember Finn as fondly, and the news of her resignation and the allegations against her as a novice master have also raised serious questions and concerns about her conduct at the seminary.
Two former seminarians at Sacred Heart seminary have told CNA that Finn had a reputation for being overly “handsy” with seminarians - extended hugs, smooches, squeezes and generally unwanted contact were to be expected from Finn.
“In legal terms, it was unwelcomed touching. But if a seminarian reported it, they became a problem,” one former seminarian, who asked for anonymity, told CNA.
Another former seminarian, who also asked for anonymity, told CNA that Finn had become such a “fixture” of the seminary and was so well-liked and considered so holy that she became “untouchable” - any complaints against her were promptly dismissed.
This same seminarian told CNA that Finn was always “touching people,” and while he doesn’t know of any explicitly sexual touching, he said her behavior was “grossly inappropriate.” He recalled on instance where Finn almost pushed a seminarian over a balcony, only to pull him back at the last second, as a joke. When the seminarian turned to throw a punch, assuming it had been a fellow seminarian, he instead saw Sr. Mary.
(Story continues below)
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“She had no sense of boundaries,” the former seminarian said. Her meetings would often run late, and seminarians were expected to listen to her for hours, in what felt like “indoctrination lectures,” he said.
In another example of boundary violation, both former seminarians told CNA separately that Finn was known for wandering the residence wing of the seminary late at night unannounced, and would often walk past seminarians who were in their towels or boxers, coming to and from the communal showers.
One time, Finn wandered in on a priest in the shower, but that issue was “promptly addressed,” one of the former seminarians said.
At some point after the late 1970s, Finn had been moved from her community to live at the seminary. While she would wander the wing belonging to the seminarians, her room was in the faculty wing.
Mischel told CNA that Finn was still living with her community during his time at Sacred Heart. He said he suspects she may have been moved to the seminary due to health problems - she eventually developed Parkinson’s disease, which may have made it difficult for her to drive.
Mischel said he had never had any experience of Finn intentionally walking past half-dressed seminarians, and said he wondered whether it could have been a sign that Finn was entering stages of dementia.