Cardinal John P. Foley died in his sleep early this morning. Many will remember him as the "Voice of Christmas", serving as English commentator for the pope's Christmas Midnight Mass for 25 years.
Since he encouraged me to begin writing this blog in November of 20110, before this day ended I wanted to post my thoughts on this man who was first, last and always a priest. I first met then Father Foley in 1972 when I entered St. Charles Seminary. He was one of the priests who lived at the seminary and, in addition to serving as editor of the archdiocesan newspaper, was a professor there. Father Foley taught various courses in the philosophy department, the most memorable for me (and due to one infamous exchange between he and I which I will not repeat here, I daresay memorable to him also) was a course in Logic.
Father Foley was a very precise teacher, and this precision was seen in other aspects of his life as well. To say that he was a little tight would not be too much of an exaggeration. As I progressed through the seminary, he would become Monsignor Foley and after ordination he was a brother priest - John. When God's will took him to Rome and service to the Holy See, many years would go by before we reconnected again. But when I finally managed to get to Rome, then Archbishop Foley welcomed me, gave me a tour of his Vatican office and, like the good adopted Italian he had become, too me to dinner.
As tends to happen, Rome and the Italian culture had a definite effect on him. I could see that, while more committed than ever to his priesthood and the Church, he had begun to adjust to the slower, more deliberative pace of life there, and came to appreciate the shades of grey that are part of life. Whenever I was in Rome, admittedly not that often, we would try and connect for dinner. One memorable time we were not able to get together for diner, but did bump into one another in St. Peter's of all places. I was just leaving from having celebrated Mass and now Cardinal Foley had just left the area where confessors are available for those seeking the Sacrament of Reconciliation. He informed me and a priest friend that he had just taken care of his spiritual health and was going to see his doctor to take care of his physical health. Unfortunately the news on the physical side was not good and he was diagnosed with Leukemia, which would end his career as Grand Master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem and, this morning, his life.
Even though I did not get to see him too often in Rome, one place I was sure to see him each year was the Supreme Convention of the Knights of Columbus. As Archbishop and later as Cardinal, he knew and appreciated the tremendous work done by the K of C for the Church, and was particularly touched by their unfailing support of and respect for priests bishops. And he didn't just "pop in" for a Mass and dinner - he came to the meeting and always shared his thanks and appreciation for the support of the Knights. But then, that was always a part of this gentle man and priest.
I could go on for much longer, but will never be as eloquent as Father, Monsignor, Archbishop, Cardinal Foley. I can only hope that someday I will be half the dedicated servant of the Church that John Foley was. Well done, good and faithful servant. Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. Rest in peace, Your Eminence. You will be missed.