By Christie L. Chicoine

CS&T Staff Writer

DARBY – Cardinal John Patrick Foley, 75, is retiring and resigning from his post as grand master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem in Rome.

The former editor of The Catholic Standard & Times and a former director of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications suffers from leukemia and anemia.

“It’s been getting progressively worse and I get weaker,” Cardinal Foley said. “I didn’t have the energy to perform my duties.”

He has returned to the Archdiocese of Philadelphia permanently, residing at Villa St. Joseph, a residence for retired, infirm and convalescent priests in Darby. {{more}}

“I didn’t think it fair for the Church to have somebody in a position who couldn’t really fulfill the position,” he said of his role leading the Order of the Holy Sepulchre, a fraternal organization dedicated to supporting the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem and to responding to the needs of Catholics in the Holy Land. The cardinal said he felt privileged by his association with the organization.

He was appointed to the position in June 2007 after having served as director of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications for 23 years.

The cardinal said he has also battled thrombosis, or clotting of the blood, in his legs, particularly on long flights. He suffered such an affliction as recently as one and a half weeks ago, on his flight to Philadelphia from Rome.

Cardinal Foley submitted a letter of resignation to the Vatican’s Secretary of State Feb. 8, met with the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, Feb. 10 and returned to the Archdiocese of Philadelphia Feb. 12.

He said he is happy at Villa St. Joseph, which is near the hospital where he was born, Mercy Fitzgerald Hospital, “and a mile from my hometown of Sharon Hill.”

In 1984, when he was named archbishop and president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications in Rome, Archbishop Foley asked Cardinal John Krol, then the Archbishop of Philadelphia, if he could one day retire in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia at Villa St. Joseph. “(Cardinal Krol) said, ‘Yes, but don’t expect me to be there to welcome you.'”

He has asked the question of each of the cardinal’s successors, Cardinals Anthony Bevilacqua and Justin Rigali.

Since his request has now become a reality, Cardinal Foley is grateful the facility has been made available to him, he said. “Everybody here has been wonderful. I’m here with people with whom I was in the Seminary (St. Charles Borromeo in Wynnewood), people whom I taught, people with whom I worked. I knew everybody here when I came, and that’s nice.”

When Cardinal Foley informed Pope Benedict of where he would be retiring, the Holy Father sent his blessing to the priests of Villa St. Joseph, Cardinal Foley said.

Being back in the Church of Philadelphia is a blessing in itself, according to the cardinal. “It’s good to come home. That’s what I consider it – coming home.

“And I’m very grateful that the Archdiocese has this facility, that they’ve made it available to me even though, formally, I’m not still a priest of the Archdiocese because I’m a cardinal who has been working in Rome.

“But I consider myself a priest of the Archdiocese. And I’m very grateful to be a priest of the Archdiocese. And I’m very grateful that I can come home to retire.”

Because a priest never truly retires, Cardinal Foley continues to celebrate Mass daily at the Villa and to pray for the needs of all, Catholics of his beloved Philadelphia in particular.

“I certainly ask for the prayers of so many people in the Archdiocese where I was privileged to serve so long – 22 years of my priesthood were spent here, and since 1984, 27 years in Rome. Next year will mark the 50th anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood. I hope I’m able to take part in that with my classmates, if God spares me.”

He carries the cross of his illness with courage. “That’s part of life,” Cardinal Foley said.

“We’re here to prepare for eternal life. Whatever God has in store for me, that’s what I’m here for. I’m grateful to God for what He’s given me.”

He concedes his physical limitations prevent him from continuing the busy schedule to which he has become accustomed. “I’m afraid I can’t get out very much because I don’t have the strength to do public ceremonies.”

But he has goals. Cardinal Foley hopes to attend the Catholic Press Association’s centennial celebration and convention June 22-24 in Pittsburgh. “It’s the 100th anniversary for them and I’ve been involved in it for 50 years.”

The fact that he is retiring in February, Catholic Press Month, is also significant.

John Patrick Foley’s journalism career began in the fifth grade when he and his friends produced a one-page newspaper that contained jokes, cartoons and local news.

He started writing radio plays about the lives of the saints in seventh grade. Not only were his plays aired, at age 14, he was asked to be an announcer for Sunday morning programming on what was then WJMJ in Philadelphia.

He also appeared in a televised, weekly college debate program during his college years, and later co-produced a 20-program TV series, “The Making of a Priest.”

Between stints as assistant editor of The Catholic Standard & Times in the 1960s, he completed his graduate studies in philosophy in Rome, where he also worked as a news reporter. His beat included covering the Second Vatican Council from 1963 to 1965.

In 1970, he was appointed editor of The Catholic Standard & Times, a post he held until Pope John Paul II named him an archbishop and appointed him head of the Vatican’s social communications council in 1984.

There, he helped the media gain access in covering Vatican events, and provided the English-language commentary for worldwide broadcasts of major papal ceremonies.

That included commentary for Christmas, Good Friday and Easter celebrations.

After 25 years of providing the English-language commentary for the pope’s Christmas midnight Mass, he announced in November 2009 that was ceasing that role. “I guess I’m truly the Ghost of Christmas Past now,” Cardinal Foley said at the time.

Under his leadership, the social communications council issued separate documents promoting ethical standards in advertising, in communications and on the Internet. Another council document denounced pornography.

When the Vatican started to investigate the possibility of going online, then-Archbishop Foley lobbied tirelessly for the Holy See to be given its own top-level domain.

“We were first told that we should be part of .it for Italy. I told them we were surrounded by ‘It’ – that, in another sense, we were ‘It’ – but we were not ‘It.'”

After refusing to settle for .it and .org, he succeeded in obtaining for the Vatican the top-level domain of .va.

“For us, that is very important, because you can be sure that anything coming from .va is authentic … material from the Vatican and the Holy See.”

An ardent advocate of the Catholic press, in a September 2007 keynote address in Philadelphia to more than 300 diocesan fiscal managers, then Cardinal-elect Foley noted that a Catholic newspaper is the visible symbol of its diocese: “As it lies on the coffee table, it identifies the family as Catholic and is readily available for consultation. It is a bond of unity and a source of information, of education, of formation, of inspiration and of continuing Catholic identification.”

Cardinal Foley holds a doctoral degree in philosophy from Rome and a master’s degree from the School of Journalism of Columbia University in New York.

He reflected the significance of his illness within the context of the upcoming liturgical season:. “For Lent, we make sacrifices, but Jesus made the greatest sacrifice for us. What we can do is to identify our sufferings with His for our own salvation and for the salvation of the world.”

Correspondence for Cardinal Foley may be sent to: Cardinal John P. Foley, Villa St. Joseph, 1436 Lansdowne Ave., Darby, PA. 19023.

CS&T Staff Writer Christie L. Chicoine may be reached at 215-587-2468 or