Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Deus Lo Vult: Foleymania Sweeps River City

For the first time since Joe Carter's bat killed this town's hopes for a World Series win 14 years ago this month, the Fightin' Phils get a taste of the post-season later today.

(Thank you, Jesus... and Mets fans.)

While our baseball squad's chances to claim its first pennant since 1980 are, of course, known but to God, devotees of Pharaohville's oldest (and holiest) professional sport -- ecclesiastical politics -- are making the final plans for a much more certain victory parade that'll mark the end of this town's 24-year championship drought.

Of course, that comes courtesy of the beloved native son Archbishop John Foley, whose June appointment as Pro-Grand Master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre bumped the longtime Vatican fixture to the front of the queue for a red hat (God's bicentennial present to His People in Philadelphia).

First reported by these pages in late June, a consistory for the creation of new cardinals is widely expected to be held on 24 November, with a formal announcement tipped for later this month, apparently during the week between 17-24 October.

As would be expected of the place where American Catholicism's Roman revolution began, the loyal phalanx has been waiting a long time (...and getting to run advance notice of the longed-for news ten days before its papal announcement gave this author his proudest moment -- some would say "redemption" -- as a local boy). Ever since, calls have been coming in from all around -- even from a representative of Foley's classmates at the Columbia School of Journalism -- musing, basically, "Show us the way to go Rome."

With the likely announcement close at hand, the event that'll mark the meeting of the self-declared "chocoholic" with the scarlet biretta prepared for him from before the foundation of the world has already become quite the hot ticket; a Roman pilgrimage -- curiously timed to take place over Thanksgiving Weekend (with Foley as its spiritual director) -- has already been arranged with a wink and a nod, the cardinal-designate-to-be has already tapped his chaplain for Conferral Day itself, and the locals have already been throwing parties for Foley (but, at the same time, mostly sans Foley) since the first days of summer.

It all notches up further today in this town's beloved tabloid -- and your narrator's alma mater -- the Daily News:
The Newtown Square travel agency Atkinson, Mullen & Rosso already has sold about 100 tickets to Rome for Nov. 23-28.

They're billing it as a pilgrimage with Archbishop Foley, but there is widespread speculation that Pope Benedict XVI will schedule the consistory for new cardinals at that time.

Foley is an odds-on favorite to be named cardinal, Catholic insiders say, although there is a possibility it won't happen next month.

"The people who have signed up [for the trip] expect it to be with Cardinal Foley, but technically it's advertised with Archbishop Foley," said the Rev. Msgr. Philip Cribben, pastor of Saint Anastasia Parish in Newtown Square.

Cribben attended St. Charles Borromeo Seminary with Foley. They were ordained as priests the same day, May 19, 1962, at Cathedral Basilica of Ss. Peter and Paul in Philadelphia.

"We always expected him to be made a cardinal someday, and now it seems to be a certainty," said Cribben, who has booked his room for next month at the Michelangelo Hotel in Rome.

Those who've known Foley since his early days in the priesthood use words like humble, brilliant, gracious and hilarious to describe him.

Today, he's in high demand worldwide as a speaker and is admired for his ability to clearly articulate the faith.

"He is a true churchman," said the Rev. Hans Brouwers, pastor of Our Lady of the Rosary Parish in Coatesville, who was Foley's ethics and philosophy student at St. Charles.

"For him, faith in God and living as a member of the Catholic Church is most important," said Brouwers, who will serve as Foley's chaplain at the consistory in Rome. "He's very faithful and loyal to the Church. And he's a real Philadelphian. That's still where his heart is."

As an only child, Foley, 71, has few close relatives, but he has a close-knit group of friends in Philly - his de facto family - even though he's been based in Rome for the past 24 years....

Foley, one of the area's most revered Catholic figures, is known to the English-speaking world as the voice of Christmas Eve, for his translations of the pope's masses....

He was born in Mercy Fitzgerald Hospital in Darby Borough, just over the Southwest Philadelphia border. He grew up in Holy Spirit Parish in Sharon Hill and graduated from St. Joseph's Prep and St. Joseph's University.

At the Prep, Foley was among a group of students who would visit local nursing-home residents and take them to Mass, said Robert Sims, who has known Foley since he was 15 years old - when Foley asked Sims' sister on a date for a formal occasion.

Foley's first assignment was at Sacred Heart Church in Havertown, where he served as assistant pastor. He was the editor of the Catholic Standard and Times from 1970 to 1984, when he was named by Pope John Paul II as president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications at the Vatican. That year, he was ordained an archbishop by the late Cardinal John Krol.

Sims, the founder of Wayne-based Sims Financial Services and a member of the Philadelphia Archdiocese's finance council, has watched his friend rise over the years through the church hierarchy. But Foley has never let the success go to his head. "He just works harder," Sims said.

When he took the position of president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, Foley moved into a tiny apartment. His predecessor, who lived above the office, was sick at the time, and Foley didn't want to make him move, Sims said.

Foley still lives in that apartment today.

"John's been living in this little, two-room apartment for 24 years!" Sims said. "That'll give you an idea of what kind of guy he is."

"You can needle John about anything. He just takes it - and gives it back to you, too," Sims said. "I'm very proud of that guy. We're very blessed to have him."
By blaring the words "SEEING RED" across its cover, the Daily lifted (and elevated) a Whispers headline... then again, on a personal note, to say that the paper's values and format have influenced the form of these pages more than almost anything else would barely scratch the surface of due credit.

Thanks to my Dad -- an employee of its parent company for almost three decades -- the Daily's newsroom was my J-school, the place where I first learned the craft and, with time, got to put the chops it imparted to the test.

Suffice it to say, between returning to the pages where my byline first appeared, and the opening line of the homily at a certain event in Alabama, it's been a humbling 24 hours.

* * *

Lastly, in other well-merited "Honors for Locals" news, congrats to Auxiliary Bishops Robert Maginnis and Joseph McFadden. To commemorate the diamond anniversary of the city's NFL franchise, both prelates made the Eagles' list of the "75 Greatest Living Philadelphians."

We would sing, "Fly, Bishops, Fly"... just not, please God, outside the diocesan boundaries.

Also included was the city's most-loved religious, Sister of Mercy Mary Scullion, foundress of Catholic Philly's culture of life crown jewel, Project H.O.M.E.