My best memories of Cardinal Foley during the decades I’ve known him are quiet moments, far away from the pomp and ceremony that are attendant to the Church and its ranking members. (Although one of my first memories of him was replete with pomp and ceremony — he was a concelebrant at our wedding in 1982).
One of my favorite recollections was a dinner with the Cardinal (then Archbishop) in Paris, in 1998.
Many know how much the Cardinal loved music, and loved to sing. Not everyone got to hear his beautiful voice belt out a perfect soprano rendition of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Three Little Maids from School” in a restaurant in Paris, however. That followed his impression of a deep-voiced Russian speaking sonorously the French phrase, “Il n’y a pas de quoi.”
That Paris visit was memorable in many ways. The Cardinal (then Archbishop) was uncharacteristically late in meeting us at our hotel. It turned out a stranger, seeing his Roman collar, stopped him and asked (in French) if he was a Catholic priest — the stranger wanted to go to confession, and Cardinal Foley had obliged on the spot.
We had a lovely dinner — the Cardinal, my husband Joe, our daughter Emily, and me. He recommended what has become my favorite French mineral water — Badoit — and helped us order a fine meal. He encouraged me to speak French, and was kind enough not to correct my stumbling efforts.
When we finished, we walked along the Seine. The Cardinal suggested we walk to the pedestrian bridge. Knowing his love of musicals and hoping he would recognize the cue from “The Music Man,” I said, “the footbridge — 15 minutes.” After the briefest pause, his clear voice began in the starlight on the Seine: “Lida Rose, I’m home again Rose…” We sang a nifty duet.
That began a tradition for us — although we didn’t get to see him often enough during his Rome tenure, we would get to sing “Lida Rose” on other rivers, where the Catholic Press Association or other good fortune allowed: on the Chicago River, on the Schuylkill River, in Orlando, on the Tiber in Rome when he was installed as Cardinal, and on the Brandywine, when he’d ring in the New Year with us, and, this past June, at the confluence of the three rivers in Pittsburgh.
We didn’t always eat in fine French restaurants. He came to our home for dinners over the years — sometimes after saying Mass for my mother, Joe, Emily and myself in a small chapel at the Seminary before making the trek to Delaware.
Over dinner, he would regale us with his wonderful adventures. Often, we’d get a chance to sing — Christmas carols or show tunes, and usually, a reprise of “Lida Rose.” He was so glad to include my mother, and enjoyed her company — I think she reminded him a bit of his own mother. He loved to laugh, often at himself. His stories were hilarious.
The most frequented eatery of the Cardinal’s choice was IHOP. Apparently, not just with us — he was recognized immediately and greeted warmly at two different IHOPs in the Philadelphia area over the last few years. He was a pancake devotee. We didn’t sing at IHOP, but the Cardinal always led us in Grace before our meal, and blessed us before we left.
Once, we arrived as usual — the Cardinal in simple priest’s garb, Joe, Emily and myself. The waitress noticed the Cardinal’s ring and said, “I like your bling!” The Cardinal responded, “Thanks! The Pope gave it to me!” The waitress looked a bit dubious, so the Cardinal made it a Catholic teaching moment to describe the figures on the ring. Before we left, the waitress asked the Cardinal to pray for her.
He was our Shepherd, our friend, our raconteur, our travel guide, and the embodiment of Faith, Hope and Love. Au Revoir, Cardinal Foley. I hope to resume our duet some day.