Former Vatican Communications Chief Cardinal John Foley dies, at 76

Cardinal John Foley

KOLKATA  (C.M. Paul) — Cardinal John Foley, who for over two decades was theVatican’s communications chief, died of leukemia on 11 December. He was also Grand Master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, a papal knighthood based in Rome.

The cardinal, who had been residing at Villa St. Joseph, the home for retired Philadelphia archdiocesan priests in suburban Darby, was 76.

To many people, the late cardinal was the voice they heard giving English language commentary during the pope’s Christmas midnight Mass. For 25 years, beginning in 1984, his voice was heard not only in North America, but also Asia, Africa, Europe andAustralia.

As head of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications for 23 years, from 1984 to 2007, the cardinal took the lead in articulating Catholic policy with regard to the media. Under his leadership, the Council issued separate documents on ethical standards in advertising, communications and the Internet. It also produced a document denouncing pornography.

In a world of bishops who were often ill at ease when speaking with journalists, or who used convoluted phrases to express a concept, media-savvy Msgr. Foley’s down-to-earth, straightforward manner of engaging with media professionals was a refreshing departure for journalists covering the Pope and theVatican.

“He incarnated, in the best way, the friendly, open, attentive relationship, of the Church in the world of social communications, not so much as an ‘impersonal’ world, but as a world of persons,” told Vatican spokesperson Jesuit Father Lombardi.

“He understood and encouraged our work with all his heart,” said Lombardi, who directs Vatican Radio.

In 2007, Pope Benedict XVI named Foley the Grand Master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem. The order supports schools, health institutions and serves basic needs for the poorest people of all faiths in the region.

“Cardinal Foley was a man of great apostolic energy. Anyone who met him was immediately aware of his intense love for the church and his zeal for communicating the Gospel. By the sheer force of his personality, he drew people to the faith and to himself,” said Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput.

Born in Darby, Foley went toSt. Joseph’s College, graduating in 1957, and then to seminary. He was ordained in 1962.

After earning a master’s degree in journalism at Columbia University, Fr Foley served as the assistant editor and later Vatican correspondent for Philadelphia’s archdiocesan newspaper, The Catholic Standard & Times.

In 1968, Cardinal Krol made him editor of The Catholic Standard & Times. While being its editor-in-chief from 1970 to 1984, Fr Foley also co-produced and co-hosted the Philadelphia Catholic Hour on WFIL radio.

Regarded as the patriarch of the American Catholic press, archbishop Foley was a gifted evangelizer, explaining Catholic teaching and practice clearly and thoroughly.

Papal biographer David Gibson, a former reporter for Vatican Radio, described Foley as “never an insider, never a ‘player'” at Vatican politics, “because he didn’t want to be.” Instead, he said, Foley earned a reputation as a “man of such rectitude, who did his job every day.”

The Pontifical Council presidency “was never a career,” Foley said during a 2007 interview inRome. “It was always a vocation, responding to what God calls you to do.”

While in Rome he lived in a plain, two-room apartment at the Villa Stritch, a residence for American clergy, where he answered his own phone.

Thomas H. Massaro, a former Philadelphia housing director, recalled in 2007 that Foley was so popular that it took him an hour just to cross  St. Peter’s Square because so many people would stop to greet him.

It was Foley’s elevation to cardinal that prompted John Allen, longtime Vatican columnist for the National Catholic Reporter, to remark in 2007 that during his 23 years at Social Communications he had “earned a reputation as the nicest guy in theVatican.”

Although Allen faulted Foley for doing little to address theVatican’s deep distrust of the news media, he said he did much to improve theVatican’s image around the world.

“There have been tense days, of course,” Foley told a reporter that year, but he’d “never had an unhappy day as a priest,” he said, adding: “I can’t think of anything else I’d rather have been.”

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Former Vatican Communications Chief Cardinal John Foley dies, at 76

  1. Sr. Angela Ann Zukowski

    I appreciated reading this well composed tribute to Cardinal Foley. I had the privilege of knowing him through committees for the USCCB since the late 1970’s into 80’s. While serving on the Pontifical Council for Social Communications (1990’s) I experienced his patience, charm, humor, profound insight for analyzing discourses and holiness. He was kind to all he encountered and remembered them. He met my mother once and from that day he would occasionally send her a note while she was in the nursing home. This meant so much to her. A few years ago he graciously celebrated Mass with my University of Dayton Students and then invited them to his office spending over an hour and half speaking of his vocation and engaging the students in depth dialogue on his love for the Church.
    Yes, he will be missed but his memory is treasured forever!

  2. Cardinal John Foley will be remembered for two reasons by me. a) In the year 1986, he paid a visit to Catholic Radio & Television Center at Hatch End (London), just a few weeks after he was appointed the Chief/Vatican Soc. Comm., I was in the middle of a training program there… a few of us at the residence that day, including Canon Peter (director). We had lunch together. He appeared to be very deeply interested in the media life, and in later years he proved it. It was truly a close encounter.
    b) He himself carried a media personality, which in following decades became a proven fact. I met him several times later. The way we all can remember him meaningfully ……. be an effective Church & Social Communicator in our time.

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