The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

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SMU Chaplain Will Finnin speaks at graduation.
Lindsey Perkins
SMU Chaplain Will Finnin speaks at graduation.

SMU Chaplain Will Finnin speaks at graduation. (Lindsey Perkins)

There has been a lot of buzz around campus about June not only being a month, but an era.

June Jones coming to the Hilltop marks the beginning of an era, but this is only on the heels of another storied chapter of SMU coming to a close.

After nearly three decades of dedicated service, bonding with students and helping guide the spiritual lives of all he has come in contact with, SMU Chaplain William Finnin is retiring at the end of the year.

Finnin came to the Hilltop in 1980 with many dreams and aspirations for the university and its students. Wishing for a greater acceptance of all faiths across campus and an openness to new ideas to be impressed upon the youth of the student body. He pursued this goal along with fighting for human rights and global awareness through religious faith development agendas.

Looking back on his 28 years of service he hopes that these goals will remain intact in his wake.

“It would delight me to know that people recognize that in the past three decades folks of religious commitment at SMU have recognized the authenticity and validity of faith perspectives other than their own,” Finnin said.

Finnin’s colleagues at SMU saw the impact of his goals and ideals on the university, English professor John Lewis viewed Finnin as someone able to unite people regardless of faith.

“Will saw himself as the pastor of the whole SMU community, churched or unchurched, of any faith or of none. He strove for deeper understanding among Christians, Muslims, and Jews. He made room in the chaplain’s office for the Campus Crusade and wiccans,” Lewis said.

“He was non-sectarian in the best sense. Where others saw walls, Will saw doors, or finding none he broke through those walls. He was a tireless advocate for the rights and dignity of students,” Lewis added.

Abdullah Kumas, a Ph.D. student at SMU is one of the students whose life was touched by Chaplain Finnin, and agrees, from an international students’ perspective, the integrity that Finnin brought to the Chaplain’s office.

“He is a man of integrity and a great help to us all. As an international student on campus, I have witnessed his great personality treating everybody equal regardless of faith, race, and nationality,” Kumas said. “There are numerous instances on and off campus that Will helped people who are in need and share with them his experience. I always have seen him as a glue connecting all faiths, races and cultures on campus.”

As many students feel Finnin has come into their lives and has been a defining presence, Finnin too feels that many students have equally touched him. Many of his relationships with students transcend the collegiate atmosphere into the students post graduate lives.

“Some of the most gratifying relationships with students have lasted across a couple of decades,” Finnin said. “I think of individuals who invited me into their family lives in times of crisis, trauma, and death of a family member. Interesting how those bonds endure such milestones such as graduation, entering a profession, marriage and parenting.”

Finnin noted that he performed a wedding for the daughter of a couple he married 26 years earlier, performing both services in Perkins Chapel.

Aside from being a positive influence in many students lives, Finnin also established many “Pro-Humanity” programs on campus for students. With increasing student interest in community service, volunteerism and civic engagement, Finnin helped to establish the SMU chapter of Habitat for Humanity in the early 1990’s. He spearheaded the efforts to create what is now “Alternative Spring Break,” a program designed to give students the opportunity to enjoy a safe, fun spring break and do good works around the nation as well.

The Inter-community Experience Center (ICE) is another program that Finnin helped to create. According to Bruce Levy, ICE director, the program engages students in community work in East Dallas, where four students live in the Inter-community experience house, in a low-income immigrant neighborhood.

Levy attributes much of ICE’s success to Finnin for originally helping the project become a reality.

“Will Finnin’s energy and moral suasion ultimately convinced the administration to give the project wing,” Levy said. “Through ICE, Will directly and indirectly over the years has touched the lives of over two-thousand SMU students and hundreds of at-risk kids, some of whom now attend SMU.”

Levy feels that programs such as ICE and others impacted by Finnin speak to his legacy here on the hilltop.

“There are many programs alive today at SMU which are living monuments to Will’s commitment to faith, justice, and knowledge,” Levy said.

According to Assistant to the Chaplain, Betty McHone, the Chaplain is a man of deep emotion, a guitar player and an excellent singer. With retirement looming, aside from brushing up on his guitar rifts, Finnin plans to stay actively involved in the Methodist church.

“I’ll continue to nurture the development of faith among young and old alike as well as continue to engage in activities that promote inter-faith understanding and insight, activities that empower folks to see themselves and their own interests in those who differ in culture, religious commitment, and social perspectives from themselves,” Finnin said.

For this Finnin has accepted a position as a pastor of a United Methodist congregation in Northern Florida where he can continue his work and also spend time with his granddaughter.

Many people have their own personal memories of the Chaplain and will remember him for how he touched their lives. For President R. Gerald Turner, Finnin will not be remembered solely for his many contributions to the university, but rather his personal touch outside of the office as well.

“Aside from the many programmatic contributions Chaplin Finnin has made to our campus, it is the personal relationships and hours of pastoral care for which he will most be remembered,” Turner said.

Many students not directly involved with the Chaplain’s office or those who have never met the Chaplain probably recognize him from the countless convocations he would give before SMU home football games during his tenure here. Though not an avid football fan, Finnin did acknowledge that he “considered the Mustangs a team worthy of and at times in need of prayer.” And added a strong Pony Up.

SMU will introduce a new Chaplain for the spring semester to fill the void left in Finnin’s wake, but Professor Lewis feels this is quite the daunting task.

All in all, he was a prophetic presence n on the SMU campus; it may be easy to find a successor, but it will be very difficult to find a replacement.

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