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September, 2019
Volume 45, Number 3
12 December 2011
Michael J.L. La Civita

Cardinal John Patrick Foley greets a Syriac prelate in Lebanon on a fact-finding trip with members of CNEWA’s governing board in April 2010. (photo: Gabriel Delmonaco)

Early Sunday morning, I learned that a good friend of CNEWA and of the Catholic press, Cardinal John Patrick Foley, had died in Philadelphia after battling leukemia. He was 76, and just a few weeks shy of the golden jubilee of his priesthood.

For those of us in the trenches of the Catholic media, Cardinal Foley was like a godfather, a prelate with media credentials; he had a Master's in Journalism from the Columbia University School of Journalism, and was a longtime editor of the Catholic Standard and Times in Philadelphia. He understood us and sympathized with the challenges we faced as Catholics and as journalists. “We know as journalists,” he said, “that the more some people try to cover up bad news, the more likely it is to be known.”

For more than two decades, Cardinal Foley headed the Holy See’s social communications council, and perhaps he is best known for his commentary during the pope’s celebration of midnight Mass on Christmas Eve.

I remember him best for his yearly trek to the annual convention of the Catholic Press Association of the United States and Canada. This ragged band of wounded warriors (well, some of us) were his colleagues and friends, and he made no attempt to hide the fact that this visit was a highlight on his very busy calendar. Though an archbishop, he did not preside at events or deliver key note addresses. Instead, he mingled with the gang — attending seminars, asking questions, grabbing minutes here and minutes there for a question or simply to tease. His presence was powerful.

His annual celebration of the Eucharist commemorating those colleagues who had died since the previous convention — and his excellent homilies at those liturgies — stand out. Whether in a convention hall or a 19th-century church, John Patrick Foley celebrated the Mass as one expected from a priest bred in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia: with reverence, thoughtfulness and care. His homilies always inspired, always brought laughs, always brought tears.

Despite my reluctance to hobnob with the famous and the titled, for 20 years this kind priest — Philly’s best — took the time to tell me how he read the magazine “cover to cover,” how he “always learned something new,” and urged me to keep pursuing excellence in Catholic publishing.

Last February, the cardinal retired to his beloved native city of Philadelphia after serving for four years as the grand master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem. During his brief tenure as grand master, the cardinal reanimated the ancient chivalric order — which was founded to support the church in the Holy Land through the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem — by extending its mandate to include the support of Latin Catholic initiatives in Lebanon and Egypt.

In April 2010, the cardinal traveled to Lebanon and Syria on a fact-finding trip with members of CNEWA’s governing board, which included Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of New York, Archbishop Terrence Prendergast, S.J., of Ottawa and Archbishop Alexander Brunett, emeritus of Seattle, and the cardinal’s good friend and classmate, Msgr. Robert L. Stern, who then led CNEWA.

The group met with patriarchs and seminarians, refugees and farmers, needy children and religious superiors. “It was,” said CNEWA’s regional director for Lebanon and Syria, Issam Bishara, “a whirlwind visit that benefited from the cardinal’s astute analysis, compassion, curiosity and wit.”

“The church in the Middle East,” said Msgr. Stern, “has lost a good friend. The church universal has lost a shepherd, a humble and prayerful giant.”

Tags: Lebanon Middle East Vatican Cardinal John P. Foley