One thing was crystal clear at the Dec. 16 funeral for Cardinal John P. Foley, 76, at Philadelphia’s Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul. The man was loved. Technically the thousand or so at the Mass were mourners, but the word just doesn’t seem to fit, because it was basically a happy gathering remembering a happy man.
From the cardinals, archbishops and bishops in the sanctuary, down to the hundreds of priests, religious seminarians, friends, coworkers and family in the pews, most knew him from one or more of the various stages of his eventful life.
As a matter of fact those who had key roles in the liturgy were picked by Cardinal Foley before he died.
Archbishop Edwin F. O’Brien, the principal celebrant of the Mass, is Cardinal Foley’s successor as pro-grand master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem.
Archbishop of New York Timothy Dolan, who was the homilist, is also president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. He came to know Cardinal Foley well when then-Msgr. Dolan was rector of the North American College in Rome and then-Archbishop Foley was president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications.
“Archbishop Chaput, priests, religious and people of this noble Archdiocese of Philadelphia, this only child of John and Regina Foley considered you his family,” Archbishop Dolan said. “Never did he stop bragging about this Archdiocese of Philadelphia as much as many of us begged him to; hold your heads high! A local Church that can give us the likes of such a noble, gentle man, whose message literally went out to the ends of the earth, is a Church which can come out even stronger in the face of woes and tears.”
Either concelebrating or present were Cardinal Justin Rigali, Archbishop Emeritus of Philadelphia; Cardinal Sean O’Malley, Archbishop of Boston; Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, Archbishop of Galveston-Houston; Cardinal William Keeler, Archbishop Emeritus of Baltimore, Cardinal Adam Maida, Archbishop Emeritus of Detroit; Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, Archbishop Emeritus of Washington; and Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington.
Also present and concelebrating were Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, papal nuncio to the United States, who read Pope Benedict XVI’s official letter of condolence, and Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli, who succeeded Cardinal Foley as President of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications.
Also present were members of Cardinal Foley’s extended family, including Eileen Guest, a cousin who read the first reading.
“I’m Jack’s oldest cousin. He was one of 12 grandchildren in the family and we loved him so much,” said Mary Hopper. “He loved singing and was a great guy.”
“I remember us singing (and) talking around the piano,” said Helen Tobin, another cousin who shared his passion for music. She wasn’t surprised when he became a priest, but a bit surprised as he rose in the hierarchy. Now “he might be a saint, who knows?” she speculated.
The Cardinal’s early childhood training was at Holy Spirit School in Sharon Hill, which was administered by the Sisters of the Holy Child Jesus. “We’ve lost a great friend,” said Holy Child Sister Ruth McCarthy. “He was very loyal to us, and we are very proud of him.”
A number of his classmates from St. Joseph’s Prep were also in the congregation, including Charles Kelly and Gus Kueny.
“I thought he was a gentle, moderate person,” said Kelly, who also became a priest. “After I left the priesthood John always treated me with kindness and cordiality; as a brother. He was a good person.”
“We met when we were about 13 years old at the Prep and went through college with him,” Kueny said. “He was a fine student and a saintly fellow and got better over the years. I think we knew in high school he would be a priest.”
Bill Ferguson was a fellow history major at St. Joseph’s College.
“He stayed close and when we visited him two weeks ago, he was the same old John. He asked for a milkshake; he loved his black-and-whites.”
Joseph Boyce, also a ‘57 grad at St. Joseph’s, was the future Cardinal’s campaign manager when he ran for student president and won. “Everybody loved him,” Boyce said. “He had a great laugh that resounded around the room, but he was very humble. He never got carried away by his authority.”
Many of his seminary classmates and friends in the priesthood participated in the ceremonies, including classmates Msgrs. Francis A. Carbine, Philip H. Cribben and Donald E. Leighton, along with Msgr. Hans Brouwers, who was his assistant when the Cardinal was grand master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem. The order had dozens of members present at the funeral in full regalia.
“I just found him to be a wonderful, warm human being,” Msgr. Leighton said. “He was not just a classmate; he was a friend who always reached out to everybody.”
As a young priest Cardinal Foley was sent to Columbia University for his master’s degree in journalism, and Ron Goldwyn, a former religion writer for the Philadelphia Daily News, was a classmate.
“He was a slightly older gentleman with a clerical collar, but he did everything we did,” Goldwyn recalls. “He was a great reporter and had a terrific sense of humor.” Later in 1991 Goldwyn was in Rome covering Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua’s elevation to Cardinal and attended Archbishop Foley’s press briefing. “I remember I wrote, ‘Archbishop Foley briefed the world press in English, Italian, Spanish and stand-up.’”
Several staffers from the Cardinal Foley days at The Catholic Standard and Times were there, including Joseph Kirk Ryan, who along with Matthew Gambino, the current director and general manager, were among those who brought up the offertory gifts. Mike Houldin, another former managing editor, commented, “Cardinal Foley was a great editor, a great priest and a great boss, a man of integrity. We need more like him.”
A number of others from the world of Catholic journalism were also at the Mass.
“Cardinal Foley and I got to know each other when he was assistant editor of The Catholic Standard and Times,” said Gerald Costello, the founding editor of Catholic New York. “We were assigned to a couple of committees together at the Catholic Press Association. He was a straight shooter, he told the truth and he had a sparkle in his voice.”
The late Cardinal was an only child, and was especially solicitous of his widowed mother Regina, who he first took to Rome when he became president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications. For health reasons he eventually brought her to St. Joseph’s Manor, a nursing facility in Meadowbrook conducted by the Sisters of the Holy Redeemer. Several of the sisters attended the Mass.
“He was very dedicated to his mother and would stay with us when he was home on vacation,” said Holy Redeemer Sister Barbara Deitrich. “He was a good, gentle man, and I remember once when we had a severe snowstorm, he helped feed the patients.”
During his final four years in Rome, he was grand master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre, where he was not only effective in raising funds for the Holy Land, he affected the mission, according to Michael La Civita, vice president for communications at Catholic Near East Welfare Association.
His greatest contribution was extending the reach of the order to Lebanon and Egypt, La Civita believes.
“Historically the order was focused entirely on support of the Latin Patriarchate in Jerusalem,” he said. “His Eminence, of course with the approval and sanction of the Holy Father, extended its reach to the two countries in the Middle East with the most Christians. Millions of Christians can benefit.”
At the end of the Mass, and after the final committal service conducted by Archbishop Chaput, Cardinal Foley’s casket was taken to the crypt beneath the altar where he was entombed among most of the bishops and other distinguished prelates of Philadelphia.
Among the small group of mourners who accompanied the body to the relatively small chamber was Holy Child Sister Gloria Coleman, representing Philadelphia’s interfaith community.
“I was so happy to be able to do that,” she said. “I worked with him beginning in 1973 when I was coordinator of ecumenical affairs. Cardinal Foley was a perfect mentor, he never stood on protocol, and he stood on the issues he would like to share with you. He was the first person who would come up and say hello.”
As with all the music for the day, the Mass concluded with a hymn selected by Cardinal Foley, in this case “How Great Thou Art,” which probably not by coincidence was also played at the funeral of his own mentor, Cardinal John Krol. A perfect ending.