She carried a moral compass for this community, urging people to choose good ethical behavior.
She guided individuals as they grappled with making decisions involving life-and-death matters and far lesser ones. Sister Siena Finley, who died last week at age 92 after nearly three-quarters of a century as a nun, did all that could be expected during her time on Earth to encourage area residents to listen to their better angels.
When people failed in their ethical obligations – which some did spectacularly, as made evident in recent years by this region’s multitude of public corruption-related downfalls – she, perhaps better than anyone, enunciated why that mattered.
“Every time one of us makes an ethical decision, we are better for it, and our community is better for it,” said Finley during a 2010 award banquet in Wilkes-Barre.
“But above all,” she said, “we grace the planet with the hallowed truth.”
Finley, who entered the Sisters of Mercy in 1939, earned a bachelor’s degree from College Misericordia in Dallas Township, later Misericordia University, where she ultimately became an associate professor of religious studies. In 1987, she helped to found the campus-based Ethics Institute of Northeastern Pennsylvania.
Finley served as the institute’s executive director for seven years, initially focusing on medical ethics and end-of-life issues, including living wills. She retired in 1995, expressing a tinge of regret that she hadn’t more vigorously promoted ethics in childhood education. In part, that desire was influenced decades earlier by her personal studies of World War II, during which she viewed films documenting the Nazi youth movement and wondered how so many children could be so easily swayed by evil.
“Good ethical thinking is rooted in good critical thinking,” she said during a 1995 interview with The Times Leader. “My suggestion is that we start very early on. I want young people to be involved sincerely in this search for truth. By the time you get to college it’s too late.”
Finley, for whom a burial service was held Monday, leaves behind a legacy, in the form of the Ethics Institute’s annual award that bears her name, and many admirers.
Moreover, she leaves behind a compass. As a community, we need to embrace it, closely heeding the directional arrow and sticking to a more ethical path.