It is absolutely fitting that the two-day funeral for Cardinal John P. Foley should begin at his beloved St. Charles Borromeo Seminary where his priestly journey began 54 years ago and his home away from home during his 27 years of service in Rome first as President of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications and later as Pro Grand Master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre.
Thursday morning Dec. 15 began with seminarians lining the way as he body was brought to the seminary for the formal reception of his earthly remains.
Father Joseph Bongard, vice rector of the seminary presided at the transfer of the body ceremony, at which time the Cardinal’s casket was blessed and covered with a white pall. In St. Martin’s Chapel itself Auxiliary Bishop Daniel E. Thomas presided as the seminary community slowly chanted the beautiful psalms of Midmorning Prayer.
Following this was an all-day viewing ending with the celebration of Mass for the Dead by Bishop Thomas, who knew him well during those years when they were both Philadelphians in Rome.
Bishop Thomas chose to focus his homily on Cardinal Foley’s episcopal motto, Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam (For the Greater Glory of God), a motto that traces back to the late Cardinal’s Jesuit training at St. Joseph’s Preparatory School and St. Joseph’s College.
“The phrase defined how he strove to live his life up until the moment he went to the Lord last Sunday,” Bishop Thomas said, “a life lived for the greater glory of God.”
Bishop Thomas also stressed three virtues practiced by the Cardinal during his life — humility, integrity and joy; the latter may have a special significance because Cardinal Foley died on Gaudete Sunday, a day in the midst of Advent when the Church joyfully anticipates the coming of the Lord.
The Gospel reading sung at the Mass was appropriately from St. John, ending “this is the will of the Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life and I shall raise him up on the last day.”
Bishop Thomas also related a practice of Cardinal Foley which also is rooted in the Ignatian spirituality taught to him by the Jesuits.
“After praying Night Prayer, as he closed his eyes to go to sleep he would always say he pictured himself at the Last Supper as the Apostle John resting his head on the head of Jesus. Dear Cardinal Foley,” he continued, “as we celebrate the memorial of that Last Supper, we pray that as you have fallen asleep in death you may awake at the heavenly banquet where you find yourself resting your head against the breast of Jesus for eternity.”
Cardinal Foley always saw the seminary as his anchor whenever he came to Philadelphia, said Father Shaun Mahoney, rector of St. Charles Seminary. “What struck me was his witness to faithfulness, his integrity as a person and his humility; he always seemed to remain humble despite high office.”
He also had a great role in building up fraternity among the alumni of St. Charles.
Father Mahoney especially remembered how in Rome, on the feast of St. Charles Borromeo, he would invite all Philadelphia priests and seminarians in Rome to a dinner in honor of the patron saint of their seminary.
Through the course of the day and evening people from every walk of life stopped by to say a prayer and perhaps share a memory.
“He was a smiling happy person, I met him only two years ago at a media convention in Toronto,” said Sister Mary Peter of the daughters of St. Paul. “He has been an example of a media apostle from his youngest days and has always been a model for us.”
Rocco Martino, attending the Mass in the Regalia of the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre, a friend for 20 years, remembered the late Cardinal as a wonderful priest and a man of religion, but also a great companion. “He faced his illness with courage and deep religious conviction,” he said.
Dennis Shannon had known the Cardinal longer than most, growing up with him in Sharon Hill.
“He was an ordinary person like everyone else,” he said. “But he was a holy person and you kind of suspected he would someday be a priest of God. This is a sad day for us but a joyful day for him.’
Nancy Fallon knew him during a brief period she worked at St. Charles Seminary. She remembers when he was named an archbishop her mother baked him a “lamb cake,”
“What are you going to do with that?” some asked. “Eat it,” replied the future Cardinal. After the evening Mass, Cardinal Foley’s body remained in St. Martin’s chapel with seminarians keeping vigil until his final journey the next morning to the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul for a further viewing followed by his funeral Mass and entombment among the bishops of Philadelphia in the crypt beneath the high altar.