Fintan Kilbride — A Man of Dreams
Founder of Students Crossing Borders
Fintan Joseph Kilbride was born on March 18, 1927 in Bray, County Wicklow, Ireland; he was the second of eight children. Fintan Kilbride lived a full life infused with passion, adventure, and a deep respect for life in all of its various forms.
When he was growing up, Fintan’s family’s daily regimen included attending Mass. At a very young age, the Franciscans who ministered at the church instilled in Fintan a social conscience. This led him to pursue his dream of becoming a priest in the Spiritan Congregation, in order to work as a missionary in Trinidad and Nigeria. While in Nigeria, Fintan was a high school teacher and administrator, and built three boarding schools, a teacher-training college, and a fifty-bed hospital. With the onset of the Biafran civil uprising in Eastern Nigeria in the late 1960’s, Fintan’s life was to take some unexpected changes. As a result of the Biafran crisis, Fintan’s hospital ran out of medical supplies, and his bishop sent him to New York to raise support for the on-going work of the church and its beleaguered people. He found a willing audience and raised funds for tens of thousands of pounds of food and medical supplies. This was an early part of what was to become one of the largest civilian-organized air-lifts in the world. The experiences of some of the doctors involved in this led them to create “Medecins Sans Frontiers” (Doctors Without Borders).
One of the most profound moments in Fintan’s life occurred when he survived a plane crash in Nigeria while taking medical supplies into the war zone. “It changed me forever,” Kilbride has been quoted as saying. He felt that God had more work for him to do, and that however the war would end, his service should continue. Fintan’s work was guided by the admonition of St. Francis that he often quoted: “Go, teach the gospel to all; if necessary, use words.” He was a man of action who was always more comfortable doing good than talking about it.
In 1970 Biafra finally fell to the forces of the Nigerian government. On each of his fund-raising trips to the U.S. Fintan was extensively interviewed by a press eager to hear “the latest” from the war zone. He was very outspoken in his criticism of the Nigerian government, and as a result, Fintan was expelled from the country. With many of the other Spiritans who left Nigeria, he returned to graduate studies in New York. There, after nearly two decades as a priest, he felt God’s call to marry Kenise Murphy, a fellow student who had been a nun. They married in 1973, completed their studies, and moved to Canada in 1975, where Fintan resumed teaching with the priests of the Congregation of the Holy Spirit at Neil McNeil High School in Toronto. Their daughter Siobhan was born shortly before they left New York, and three years later in Toronto, a second daughter, Ciara, completed their family. Fintan’s changing life circumstances did not alter his ideology and principles, however. Instead, he lived out his values as a husband, father, and teacher with the Toronto Catholic District School Board. He became an inspiration to his students as he demonstrated his standards by living them.
In 1991, Fintan launched an international cooperative educational summer school program at Neil McNeil. Catholic Secondary School. Its purpose was to introduce students to the conditions of those living in developing countries through work in Kingston, Jamaica, and to help them understand the links between those conditions and the actions of first-world nations. Students from an increasing number of schools in Canada, the U.S., and beyond began to take part in these trips. After Fintan’s retirement he continued his trips to Jamaica, taking with him, anyone willing to help. Fintan Kilbride was a priest turned teacher who devoted his life to helping those in emergent countries, especially Haiti, Nicaragua, and Jamaica. The legacy of this great man lives on in this organization which is today called Students Crossing Borders. The organization has expanded to include participants from all walks of life, who all reap the educational and spiritual benefits of the experience.
In March, 2005, Fintan Kilbride was given the Marion Tyrrell Award of Merit by the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association for his work for social justice; this was the first time this award has been given to a retired teacher. In November, 2005, he was given the Lewis Perinbam Award by the Canadian Bureau for International Education for his work both with youth and with developing countries. In 2006 the Congregation of the Holy Spirit awarded him the Francis Libermann medal for service to humanity in the spirit of their founder.
As well as pursuing endeavors for social justice, Fintan was a great sportsman. He won 19 U.S. National Racquetball Championships and 6 Canadian National Championships in his age divisions. At age 65, Fintan won the World 65+ racquetball title and the U.S. national 60+ and 65+ divisions. As a result, the American Racquetball Association adopted what they called the “Fintan Kilbride Rule”: henceforth a player could enter only one age category per tournament! But in Canada at age 69, he was the Ontario Provincial champion in the 35+ and 45+ divisions.
Fintan died very peacefully on December 21, 2006, after losing his final match with cancer.