Sunday, December 11, 2011

The "Voice" Is Called Home -- Cardinal Foley Dies at 76

A faithful friend to so many of us and the global church's legendary "Dean" of Catholic communicators, the great and beloved John Patrick Cardinal Foley went peacefully to his reward overnight (around 3am) here in his native Philadelphia, exactly a month since his 76th birthday.

The Vatican's "Voice of Christmas" in serving as English-language commentator for the Pope's Midnight Mass -- the world's most watched religious broadcast -- for 26 years, Foley retired to his hometown earlier this year amid a battle with leukemia, the complications of which had drained his energy.

Ever as unpretentious and gentle as he was hard-working, the self-confessed "chocoholic" never completely rebounded from a 2006 surgery for kidney cancer, but continued extensive travels of the globe for the five years his stamina allowed to support and encourage his cherished colleagues in Catholic communications, and subsequently to bolster the church's work in the Holy Land.

After 23 years as president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, in June 2007 Pope Benedict tapped the onetime Jesuit novice -- a graduate of Columbia University's vaunted School of Journalism -- to become the first non-European ever to serve as Grand Master of the millennium-old Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre, which allowed for his long-awaited elevation to the College of Cardinals five months later.

On his farewell visit to the pontiff in February, Benedict reportedly told Foley that elevating him to the cardinalate in tribute to an extraordinary life of service to the church was "one of the best things" he had done as Pope. (At top, the new cardinal is shown entering the church where he was ordained a priest and archbishop -- Philadelphia's Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul -- for the Thanksgiving Mass that celebrated his red hat in the place which, despite three decades in Vatican service, he always saw as "home.")

Dubbed the "Patriarch" of Philadelphia Catholicism in his later years, the cardinal's funeral will take place at the River City Cathedral, according to plans quietly sketched out over recent weeks.

While the date and celebrant remain to be determined -- sendoffs for cardinals outside Rome are customarily led by a Vatican-designated papal legate -- the anticipated three-day farewell is to conclude with Foley's burial in the Cathedral crypt alongside his hometown's bishops and archbishops, among them his mentor, John Cardinal Krol, who was the last person to be laid to rest there in 1996.

Sadly, Foley's death comes weeks shy of the year in which he would've celebrated his golden jubilee as a priest. For these ten months, though, the cardinal was able to spend his last days among the group with whom he never stopped counting himself -- the priests of Philadelphia -- as a resident of Villa St Joseph, the archdiocesan residence for retired clergy located right next door to the hospital where he was born, and all of a mile from the simple house in a working-class suburb where he grew up.

More to come... admittedly, amid tears. In the meanwhile, though -- to employ one of his more well-spun stories -- let it be said that a cadre of friends that literally spans the globe will miss "Mr Foley" very much for the same reason that we loved him, and he loved us: "Because," through his life and example always, "he taught us about Jesus."

May his sweet, generous, always life-giving spirit -- indeed, this great priestly soul -- rest in eminently-merited peace, to the greater glory of God.

* * *
In late November, the figure known impishly among friends as "His Foleyness" was honored by Philadelphia's Broadcast Pioneers as their Person of the Year and inducted into their Hall of Fame of local legends.

Unable to attend the dinner conferring the awards due to his illness, the cardinal sent a taped message recounting his six decades in the media, and reminding his colleagues of the gift and responsibility of our work.

So far as we can tell, the following is Foley's final public appearance....

That said, ever the good and devoted son of the local church he loved more than anything -- and left only under protest -- Foley would want the last word to belong to the archbishop of Philadelphia.

To that end, currently en route home from his ad limina visit to the Vatican, Archbishop Charles Chaput OFM Cap. has released the following statement:
I was deeply saddened to learn of the death of Cardinal John Foley. Cardinal Foley was a man of great apostolic energy. Anyone who met him was immediately aware of his intense love for the Church and his zeal for communicating the Gospel. By the sheer force of his personality, he drew people to the faith and to himself.

I was pleased that he was able to come home during the final months of his life. No matter where he lived or how he served the Church over the years, he always considered Philadelphia his home. I ask the people of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia to offer prayers for Cardinal Foley, and I invite our priests to offer Masses for the repose of his soul.

All of us are very grateful for the life and service of Cardinal Foley. His charisma and gentle spirit will be sorely missed throughout the Universal Church. May God grant him the gift of eternal life, and give peace and consolation to all those who loved, admired, and respected him.
PHOTO: Fr Daniel Good(1); Pool(2)