Sister Siena Finley, founder of Ethics Institute, dies at 92

First Posted: 8/30/2014

DALLAS — Joe DeVizia described Sister Siena Finley as “a wonderful person and a great example to everybody.”

Finley, founder of the Ethics Institute of Northeastern Pennsylvania and former associate professor of religious studies at Misericordia University, died Friday at age 92.

Her obituary appears on Page 2A.

“This a major loss to the community,” said DeVizia, former executive director of the Children Service Center and former executive director of the Luzerne County Office of Human Services. “She had great insight into everything. She was able to discern issues and help and guide people to come to good conclusions. She had a great commitment to life.”

DeVizia, a church deacon, visited with Finley shortly before she died, accompanied by Rabbi Larry Kaplan of Temple Israel. DeVizia and Kaplan said Finley’s reach transcended religion and generations.

“She raised our consciousness,” DeVizia said.

Kaplan said the presence of a Catholic Deacon and a Jewish Rabbi praying together at her bedside is a clear indication of the uniqueness of Sister Siena.

“But that’s who she was,” Kaplan said. “It’s the quintessence of her soul.”

Kaplan said Finley had a lasting effect on the fabric of the community and she did it without ever seeking credit or the limelight.

“It was important to her to participate not only in interfaith programs around the community, but to make sure she was there in a very modest kind of position,” Kaplan said. “She was not the type to grab the microphone; she just wanted to be present when something important was going on in the community.”

Founded institute

Finley founded the Ethics Institute of NEPA at Misericordia University in 1987, with a group of community leaders who wished to foster more dialogue on ethical issues affecting the region.

Some 15 regional leaders and educators who are committed to the discussion of ethical issues are on the current board of directors. She served as the institute’s executive director for years.

As Finley wanted it, the Ethics Institute encourages responsible ethical action through informed rational deliberation and it facilitates this process in the academic community as well as in the community at-large through special workshops and forums.

Joseph Curran, Ph.D., now the executive director and also an associate professor of religious studies at Misericordia, said Finley’s passing has saddened senior faculty.

“She was a force of nature,” Curran said.

Curran said Finley has always been held in high regard, even long after she retired in 1995. She continued to work in the community, serving on ethics boards at institutions, doing ethics programs and assisting families who were dealing with end-of-life issues with loved ones.

“She was an icon in the community, a person who has had such an impact is rare,” she said.

Friends reflect

Sister Jean Messaros, RSM, vice president for Mission Integration at Misericordia, said Finley was a person of great integrity, “a very compassionate person who influenced a lot of people.”

Essie Davidowitz, a longtime friend, called Finley “a profound thinker” who was able to understand and resolve complex philosophical problems.

“People of all ages and religious backgrounds turned to her for wisdom,” Davidowitz said. “She was always able to make it very clear what the right thing to do was. She knew how to motivate good behavior and true values.”

Davidowitz said anyone in need of a Guardian Angel should choose Finley for that role.

“She never judged anybody,” she said. “She always set the perfect example and that will be her legacy. She helped us to find the right path for ourselves. She was a truly beautiful human being.”

Eric Lee, owner of Peking Chef restaurants, recruited Finley to be a founding member of Generation to Generation, a nonprofit organization designed to enrich lives through inter-generational sharing. Finley was 85 when she crafted the G2G mission statement.

“I’m going to miss her,” Lee said. “I’ve known her for more than 30 years and I will miss her warmth and understanding. She is one of my most favorite people.”

Lee said people in desperate situations would turn to Finley for help and she would put her heart, mind and soul into everything she did.

“She strongly believed that it was more important than ever to foster family ties and to keep the family unit strong and healthy,” Lee said.

Tom Pugh, former CEO at the John Heinz Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine, said Finley exemplified what a community leader should be.

“This community will miss her greatly,” he said. “She was very funny, very quick-witted and always fun. She had a great sense of humor. And most of all, she taught us the right way.”

Sister for 75 years

Sister Agnes Therese Brennan, RSM, lived in the same apartment complex as Finley. She said Finley would have celebrated 75 years as a Sister of Mercy on Sept. 8.

“She really wanted to celebrate that,” Brennan said. “A celebration was planned for Sept. 13 and Siena was looking forward to it.”

Brennan said Finley was all about relationships and had developed man ecumenical relationships, bringing together leaders of all faiths to address community issues.

“She unified us in many ways,” she said. “She was able to meld us all together. She just loved everybody and everybody loved her.”

At Misericordia

Finley was an associate professor of religious studies at Misericordia for 23 years (1972-1995) and acted as chair of the department for a number of years.

She led many workshops and gave many presentations on ethics and has taught courses on Christian Social Ethics, Medical Ethics, the Holocaust and Scripture. Additionally, she gave many workshops and lectures on the issue of advance directives or living wills, and is widely recognized as an expert in that field.

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