Review of “Short Stories” by Father Finn
“I take boys and girls as I find them and, holding sufficiently close to their ways of speech and action…I try to point out how matters might be, how matters could be, if boys and girls lived up to their ideals…This manner of writing…inspires one to be his best self, which is also his real self.”
In these words Father Francis J. Finn, S.J. explains his goals in writing for Catholic boys and girls, a goal shared by Catholic parents today: inspiring children to live their lives being their “best self” or their “real self.”
Father Francis J. Finn was born in St. Louis, Missouri on the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi, October 4, 1859. From then until his death on November 2, 1928 he influenced thousands of children across the world with his stories of Catholic boys and girls.
Frontier pioneer schools were becoming better disciplined and structured under the Jesuits during Father Finn’s lifetime of educating Catholic boys and girls. His superiors as well as Father Finn saw a need that spanned the passage of time: namely, that children need inspiration to be their “best self.” How do parents and those charged with the education of children provide this inspiration?
Father Finn’s account of his own life provides an answer that Catholic literature can play an important role in forming Catholic character:
“With the reading of ‘Fabiola’ came a new period in my life. The beautiful story of those early Christian martyrs had a profound influence upon my life. Religion began to mean something to me. Since the day of reading ‘Fabiola,’ I have carried the 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 for worse. Only yesterday … word came to me that a brilliant young man, an outstanding student, had lost the faith…I had known the boy well and had thought much of him. But I had also known that even in his callow youth he had read books against faith, books dangerous to morals, and books of every kind provided they had some claims to literary merit. In a word, he had browsed without discriminating between the good and the poisonous. The result was as might have been expected.”
Clearly avoiding “books dangerous to morals” is essential for children to be their “best selves” but what should Catholic parents do to try to strengthen their child’s faith?
Father Daniel Lord explains how reading good Catholic literature can provide this necessary inspiration as he relates how Father Finn’s stories helped to strengthen his faith:
“Like most Catholic boys, of course, my young mind was early filled with the high romances of his boy heroes. In their company I first met the Jesuits whom later, to my great good fortune, I was to join. From these boys of fiction, I learned much of honor and courage and cleanness of mind and body. I came to believe in the manliness of piety. In their company I spent happy hours and never did I leave them without the implicit resolve to live as they lived and do as they did.”
Catholic parents who wish to instill these virtues in their children can be greatly aided by the Father Finn’s stories which have helped to form Catholic character in previous times as a supplement to learning the catechism and reading the lives of the saints.
Father Finn takes stories from the lives of real children and subtly shows the effects of God’s grace interwoven throughout their daily lives. Concrete examples illustrate how to incorporate in our lives the lessons that we read and memorize from the catechism, the same catechism containing the same truths that boys and girls memorized in the days of Father Finn and for centuries before.
These young boys and girls of Father Finn’s stories had the same problems of learning to use their free-will to tame their vices and strengthen their virtues. This battle between virtue and vice is the excitement and the glory of Father Finn’s stories that led so many children in the past to clamor for Father Finn to write more. These virtues are also shown throughout Father Faber’s “Tale of the Angels” which a child reads in one of Father Finn’s short stories.
After his death, thousands of people who had read Father Finn’s books from all walks of life attended his funeral – a testament to the impact that Father Finn’s stories had on children during his lifetime. These examples of children being inspired to follow their Catholic faith and show their “best self” continue to today as the testimonials below show.
The short story in Mostly Boys “Because He Loved Much” provides an example of the importance of confession and keeping our resolution to not sin again. In this story, a boy had found himself not studying for school during the first weeks of the term. After going to confession, the boy was sorry for neglecting his duty and made a resolution to begin studying harder. Although he made this resolution, the boy ends up spending time with his friends instead of studying. The next day, the boy realizes he fell again and decides to make restitution for again neglecting his duty. This story shows the importance in real-life to confess our sins and make a resolution to not sin again. Nonetheless, we can still fall again and this story shows us that we must be sorry if we fall into sin again because God will forgive us if we are sorry and are determined to avoid sin in the future. – N. B. read at age 16
“Although Mostly Boys by Father Finn implies on first glance a book strictly for boys, don’t be deceived! Whether the characters are boys or girls, the challenges of obedience, charity, honesty, piety, fighting temptation, and so many more confront every child and their feelings, temptations, and reactions remain the same. Father Finn’s compelling writing style and life-like characters are captivating and demonstrate the morals every Catholic learns to cherish. In the short story “One of Claude Lightfoot’s Birthdays” Father Finn portrays Claude’s ready wit, his adventurous spirit, but above all his Catholic character. Claude has a loving sense of adventure, but with a realization that obedience comes first. A whole paragraph is dedicated to the thought process of the scrupulous boy as he determines whether his early morning outing is truly within the lines of obedience. Claude’s sincere character is proven once again at the closing of the story. In reply to his father’s question, “Claude, do you know what you deserve?” Claude replies with no hesitation “A whipping, pa!” Claude has realized his wrong but is resolved to try again. In doing this, Claude reminds us that the path to virtue is do-able but does entail constant effort.” – C.B. read at age 14
“Even as a girl, I found the stories interesting and inspiring. In the “The Wager of Gerald O’Rourke,” Gerald O’Rourke, who is known as a heavy sleeper, makes a wager with his friend that he will be up early enough to awaken his friend for Christmas Midnight Mass. Once out of bed though, poor Gerald makes a terrible mistake when he rings the doorbell of the wrong house, which is owned by his father’s boss, who is deciding whether to fire his father and hire a non-Catholic to please his evil friends. This story also carries spiritual lessons for the whole family. This story gave me a devotion to the Holy Souls and the Holy Child. Gerald overcomes his troubles through the intercession of the Holy Souls and Gerald’s father’s boss is brought back to the faith through the perseverance of his children’s prayers to the Christ Child. Many Catholic traditions are taught through the stories such as asking the saints to intercede for us, making sacrifices for others, and accepting suffering.” – K.B. read at age 14
“Father Faber’s Tales of the Angels, is of a significantly different sort. For anyone, including a child, who is really interested in spirituality, it provides powerful, beautiful consolations and guidance. Perhaps the dedication at the beginning of Tales of the Angels, describes best the author’s setting in this work:
“Suppose we take the angels instead of fairies, and the Dead instead of ghosts, and then see how we get on.”
Faber takes a look not only at angels, but at little children and examines circumstances in their lives, such as illness, melancholy, and even death, and shows how they fit into the grand scheme of things and how it is Divine Love which is the ultimate cause, and how silly it is for us to question His plan. We look around us, we see how small we are, and how beautiful God is; and sooner or later, after we have lovingly surrendered ourselves to the mysteries of Divine Providence, we find that we have no choice but to become very, very happy. ” – T.D. read at age 13
 Francis J. Finn. Father Finn, S.J. The Story of His Life Told by Himself for His Friends Young and Old, Benziger Brothers, 1929. pg.196