Those who knew Passionist Fr Theodore Foley remember him as a man of deep faith, who was known for his charity, compassion and service.
“He was a very easygoing, gentle man, not at all looking for any kind of office, or power, or prestige,” said Passionist Fr Timothy Fitzgerald.
It is that humble nature that Passionists point to when they list the many reasons that Fr Foley should be considered for sainthood in the Catholic Church.
With the formal public announcement of Fr Foley’s Cause, people will have the opportunity to learn more about the beloved priest, who led the Passionist congregation as superior general from 1964 until his death in 1974.
“He was a very ordinary individual, but it was obvious that he was a saint,” said Passionist Fr Jerome Vereb. “You were aware that you were in the presence of holiness.”
A Pittsburgh native, Fr Vereb has served in a number of capacities with the Passionists and was a Vatican archivist.
He first met Fr Foley outside of St Paul Monastery on Pittsburgh’s South Side when he was 11. As a Passionist, he would reside with Fr Foley at several residences, principally in Rome.
Fr Vereb recalled Fr Foley’s great love for administering the Sacrament of Reconciliation, saying that Fr Foley would go anywhere to hear confessions and that he never considered it a duty.
The last time he saw Fr Foley, Fr Vereb recalled, was in Rome a month before his death. He said Fr Foley went on a brief walk with a woman who came to him for spiritual guidance.
“He always enjoyed that aspect of his ministry,” Fr Vereb said. “Personal contact and spiritual direction.”
Fr Fitzgerald was a student of Fr Foley’s and would later go on to serve as his secretary.
“He was a born teacher,” said Fr Fitzgerald of his former mentor. “He loved clarity of thought. He loved to be able to break things down and be able to be understood.”
As a testimony to his ability as a teacher, Fr Fitzgerald said Fr Foley would tear up his notes at the end of each year so he could refresh his thoughts for the next one.
Passionist Fr John Fidelis McMillan, another former student who would later work as a librarian under Fr Foley, also recalled his impact as a teacher, adding: “He was so clear and so logical and so calm. I thought that this was the way that St Thomas Aquinas was.”
Passionist Brother Matthew Krawchyk came to St Paul Monastery in 1956, during Fr Foley’s term as rector. He still recalls his powerful homilies.
“He could preach the most profound theology and put it in words that the common person could understand,” Brother Krawchyk said. “It was just a delight to listen to him.”
He also noted that Fr Foley had no pretensions about his life or work, and never put himself above others, even while he was the superior general.
Fr Vereb recalled Fr Foley’s term as superior general by noting that he never put on airs. He was a man who tossed a baseball with other Passionists and followed the Passionist tradition of daily solitary walks of prayer.
Fr Foley took every duty in the monastery, he said. Whether it was giving out food to the poor, answering the door or phone or taking his turn cleaning the floors, sweeping or doing the dishes. “He did everything everyone else did,” he said.
During his time in Rome, Fr Vereb came to know people of great holiness such as Blessed Teresa of Calcutta and Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero, and he noted that Fr Foley possessed the same qualities of genuine love for God and for his fellow man.
Fr Foley was born in Springfield, Massachusetts, on March 3 1913 and was baptised Daniel Foley. He professed his vows in the Passionist order on August 15 1933 and was ordained April 23 1940.
He served as rector of St Paul Monastery from 1956 to 1958, when he took up residence in Rome.
Fr Foley died in Rome after suffering from a parasitic infection that affected his heart. He contracted the infection during a trip to a Passionist mission in Australia. He was buried in Springfield.
He was the first superior general to die in office since the time of St Paul of the Cross, founder of the Passionists, who died in 1775.
Fr Foley was named a Servant of God by Pope Benedict XVI in 2008.