Foley Stories: For "The Voice," An Irish Wake
...and that's exactly why, for so many years, we all looked to him as the first of our kind.
For John Cardinal Foley, that descriptor is true for any number of different groups -- the Catholic press, Americans in Rome, his classmates from Columbia J, and more... even if, among them all, he was only ever being himself.
Lord knows he loved each and every one dearly, and was adored just as much by the rest in return. In its keenest instance, though, how true and immense was his love for us, for his Philadelphia -- this place he never stopped seeing as home, where he seemed to know everyone from construction workers to the titans of commerce -- and above all else, the local church that, beyond dispute, was the greatest love of an extraordinary life.
Indeed, Phils fans, it is very tough to imagine a path ahead here without our "Patriarch." Still, precisely in the moment when our people learned of a dramatically new future for the faith in our midst, it was eerily fitting that the last pristine embodiment of the grand old age was called home, that he might intercede for the success of the difficult, but ever more needed, work of renewal into which we're now called.
Since Sunday morning, no shortage of tributes have emerged from seemingly every place "His Foleyness" touched over a half-century of priesthood and, just like his mentor, 27 years at the work that made him a legend. Yet as the tributes have predominantly been circulated by folks with outlets or platforms of their own, even these are unable to capture the full measure of the great friend and gentle soul so many of us now grieve, and who we'll miss very much, often intensely so, going forward.
Despite his training, Foley had a funny way of turning journalism on its head: he didn't just find a story wherever he went, he tended to leave one, too. As his cherished student-turned-secretary, Msgr Hans Browers, told the suburban paper the future cardinal delivered as a boy, "When you use the expression 24/7, that was him -- twenty-four hours, seven days a week he worked.”
Contrary to appearances, though, relatively little of that labor was the work of mass media. Far more often -- whether in airports and diners; chance meetings, speeches or letters -- it, all of it, was the service of a priest: person by person, soul by soul, bringing life and goodness everywhere he went.
When Foley was sent to Columbia for graduate studies as a young cleric, his archbishop urged him to never lose sight of the reality that "You are a priest who happens to be a journalist, not a journalist who says Mass."
It was just one of many things he remembered impeccably. And as a result, all the towering accomplishments and hours of commentary over satellites and airwaves, on tape and in newsprint, were only ever a complement, an extension -- or, to use today's language, a "plug-in" -- of the "beat" he started into on May 19, 1962, on the top step of the High Altar beneath which he'll now be laid to rest.
And so, Foleyites, wherever you are, here's where you -- indeed, the fruit and yield of said priesthood -- come in.
For everything that's already hit print or the web these last two days, something seems to say that there are many, many more "Foley stories" around than those we've already seen... whether they're born from years of tuning in for Midnight Mass to hear his voice, having known him for decades, or anywhere in between.
Along those lines -- especially for those among us at a physical distance, but not a spiritual one, from this week's farewell -- as these days begin, for this readership to bring our stories and moments of grace together seems to be the best tribute, thanks and sendoff we can give.
Ergo, the combox is again open below, and you're all more than welcome to share your memories and recollections of one of the all-time greats. But as, by necessity, submissions will need to be moderated, suffice it to say that the cardinal's lifelong example of class, dignity, mutual respect and good humor serve as the guiding standard of the exercise.
Further reflections to come... in the meantime, as a day many of us have long dreaded approaches, may the church's ancient prayer likewise be our own:
Saints of God, come to his aid;And with that, gang, the floor is yours.
Hasten to meet him, angels of the Lord:
Receive his soul and present him to God, the Most High.
PHOTOS: Pontifical Council for Social Communications(1,2); Catholic Standard & Times Archive(3); The (Columbia) Missourian(4)