Our History


Mary Ann Finch, Founder

Mary Ann Finch was born in Lansing, Michigan and graduated from Michigan State University where she majored in education and the dramatic arts. She subsequently completed her MA in Communications at Arizona State University. In 1973, she made her way to the Bay Area to begin a Masters Program in Christian Spirituality at the Jesuit School of Theology in the Graduate Theological Union Seminary. While pursuing her degree, she studied health psychology at Saybrook University in San Francisco, movement therapy at Mills College in Oakland, and massage therapy at the Gefion School of Massage in Berkeley. She pioneered an area of study called Embodied Spirituality and taught as an adjunct professor at the Jesuit School of Theology.

In 1983, Mary Ann established a non-profit organization called the Center for Growth in Wholeness as a way to integrate her studies and instruct others. In 1989 she founded the Care Through Touch Institute, a professional school of massage with special emphasis on pastoral care among people suffering with HIV/ AIDS during the height of the AIDS crisis. She then spent time in India, where she taught massage therapy in leprosariums and street clinics, including alongside Mother Teresa at her homes for the demented, dying, and indigent. At the end of her stay, Mary Ann committed herself to the challenge given to her by Mother Teresa on the day she left Calcutta: “Go home and do there what you’ve done here –TOUCH the ‘poorest of the poor’ with your CARE.”

On returning to the United States, Mary Ann moved the Institute from Berkeley to San Francisco and into the Tenderloin neighborhood, known for illegal drugs, crime, poverty and homelessness. There she devised training programs to meet the specific needs of people traumatized by poverty and homelessness. Women, the aged and dying, and those suffering from HIV/AIDS continue to be a special focus of CTI’s compassionate presence, offering them the simplest, most profound sense of oneness with others that caring touch can provide. Some refer to us as 'mothers' others call us 'friends' or simply the 'massage ladies'!

Over the years we have developed strong connections in this high-risk community through our compassionate and caring presence. During this time (35 yrs!) we have 'aged' alongside this resilient, but also fractured neighborhood. We feel both a passion and a responsibility to create a new model of compassionate care to specifically address not only the physical, but also the psychological and spiritual needs of the elderly homeless and marginally housed women and men in this community. As Mary Ann says, “I intend (and pray) that I will do this sacred work until I draw my last breath.”

Care Through Touch was my bridge to the world of the poor…
— Mary Ann Woodward

See the full CTI Story

As told by Founder and Director, Mary Ann Finch.
This heartwarming video tells the story of the origins of the Care Through Touch Institute in Founder and Director, Mary Ann Finch’s own words, including Mother Teresa’s mandate to her to serve the “untouchables” in our community.