Robert Damian Finnegan, 80, passed away peacefully on July 7, 2021. He will be remembered for his generous spirit, sharp intellect, keen powers of observation, and deep knowledge of the potentially contradictory areas of science and religion.
Born December 3, 1940, in New York City, Robert was raised in Cranford, NJ by his parents Dr. William R. Finnegan and Ruth Newhouse Finnegan as the oldest of seven siblings, beloved by his mother as her "right hand man." While attending St. Benedict's Preparatory School in Newark, Robert enjoyed his studies of art, biology, algebra, and religion as well as his four years on the track team. His journey in his faith began in earnest after graduating high school while on a weeklong retreat at a Trappist monastery. At that point he thought he found his calling, becoming a Trappist brother as he worked and prayed in the community for over a year. While he looked back fondly on these days, he recalled that the vow of silence did not allow him to "reach out to others and help them lovingly." Leaving the monastery proved to be a turning point toward building a loving family and a lifelong career as a physicist.
After graduating with degrees in physics and mathematics from Saint Peter's College in Jersey City, Robert taught for two years at Regis High School in Manhattan while studying physics at New York University, graduating with a master's degree. He met the love of his life, Rosemary, at a Catholic Youth Organization meeting in 1963, and they married in 1965. Robert was a loving father to daughter, Rosemary, and son, Robert, with whom he shared thoroughly unappreciated explanations of the finer points of algebra, calculus, and quantum theory. In 1966, Robert began his career as a civilian physicist for the U.S. Department of Army. Along with his colleagues, he authored many academic papers and holds more than a dozen patents.
While a consummate scientist, religion remained central to Robert's daily life. He enjoyed attending mass at St. Jerome's in West Long Branch and was a member of the local Knights of Columbus. He filled his copious notebooks equally with thoughts about chemistry and Jesus. A voracious reader, Robert could be found studying a wide variety of books from the Bible to T.S. Eliot's poetry, leaving gems of his thinking in the margins. In his retirement, Robert explored the world as Rosemary's willing travel partner. With friends and family, he was always ready to share a good laugh-known for his ability to unexpectedly supply a perfect punchline.
A man who refrained from judgment and preferred to listen more than speak, Robert exemplified the definition of compassion by seeking to understand and alleviate the suffering (great or small) of those around him. Whether he was volunteering for his church or spending time with neighbors, Robert generously focused on others. No stranger to his own suffering with ailments both mental and physical, he consistently expressed gratitude for all the health professionals who helped him. Even as movement and energy declined, he remained optimistic, insightful, and wise through his 80 years.
Robert is survived by his wife Rosemary; children Rosemary and Robert (Jennifer Geoghan); grandchildren Emily Tritto (Joseph), Amanda Romano (Joshua), Fiona Finnegan, and Eleanor Finnegan; great-grandchildren Joseph Tritto and Bellasera Romano. Robert is also survived by siblings Ruth Albanese, Therese Bocchino (Peter), Michael Finnegan, Peter Finnegan (Sabina), and Clare Chirico (Peter).
A memorial mass will be held at St Jerome's Church at 10am on July 24th. Donations in his memory may be sent to St. Benedict's Preparatory School (www.sbp.org
Published by Asbury Park Press on Jul. 15, 2021.