It seems everyone has a good “Cardinal Foley” story to tell. The man was just so nice, so gracious, so friendly, we all thought he belonged especially to us.
During my years as conference director for Legatus, I called upon him often. He concelebrated Mass at our annual conference in Florida, and later he welcomed us to his offices at the Pontifical Council for Social Communications in Rome. There, he spoke with great energy about the role of the Church in the world, and about how goals of the new evangelization could be realized through the media.
One of the special treats then-Archbishop John P. Foley served up for our group each year was a special showing of historic Vatican films, including the Pontifical Council’s oldest and most famous: A short clip on Lumiere film dating from 1896, featuring Pope Leo XIII. In the film, first the pontiff is seated, surrounded by bishops in an ornate chair; in the next scene, he arrives in a horse-drawn carriage. An aide reminds him that this is to be a moving picture; and slowly, deliberately, Pope Leo waves to the camera.
Next Archbishop Foley shared a clip of Pope Pius XI inaugurating the Vatican Radio station, followed by Pope Pius XII visiting with the Italian royal family. Finally, we were treated to amazing footage from October 1962: the great Second Vatican Council, Pope John XXIII seated near the great baldacchino in St. Peter’s Basilica, the bishops in their tall mitres.
Archbishop Foley was the consummate storyteller, and he loved to share this rich history of the Church and the papacy with our admiring crowd. He spoke of the role of media, of Bishop Fulton Sheen as the first televangelist; then he told jokes and chatted amiably with his guests. I recounted an early childhood memory of Pope Pius XII having contracted hiccups that would not stop, even after many weeks; and Archbishop Foley told us all that this was, in fact, the way he had died—the recurrent hiccups signaling his impending death.
For several years, I saw Archbishop Foley only on television—narrating the pope’s Midnight Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica, explaining the Faith to the world.
But then, some years later, our paths crossed again. Visiting Rome with executives of Guest House, I again arranged for a visit to Archbishop Foley’s office. In February 2006, he had had a cancerous kidney removed; but by September of that year, he was back at his desk and he received us enthusiastically. A trip to Rome is always such a flurry, and some details of the week remain sketchy; but over the next few days, he met with us again. Very supportive of Guest House’s mission of hope and healing for addicted Catholic clergy and religious, Archbishop Foley led us to a favorite café to continue our conversation over breakfast—and he then insisted on picking up the tab.
In 2007, Archbishop Foley was named Grand Master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem and elevated to the rank of Cardinal-Deacon.
In November 2011 the U.S. bishops, gathered in Baltimore for the USCCB Fall General Assembly, heard a report from Archbishop Edwin O’Brien regarding his failing health yet buoyant spirits, and they joined in prayer for this great man of God as he neared the end of his life’s journey.
And this week Cardinal Foley, the great communicator, left us to labor without him as he went to the place prepared for him by the Father. With Catholics the world over, I mourn for Cardinal Foley this week.
May his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.