PHILADELPHIA — Cardinal John Foley, who for 25 years was the voice for American viewers of the Vatican’s Christmas Midnight Mass and who led an ancient Catholic order in the Holy Land, died Sunday. He was 76.
Foley died at the Villa St. Joseph in suburban Darby, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia said. The cause of death was not given.
In 1984, Foley was appointed to lead the Pontifical Council of Social Communications, which spearheaded Vatican initiatives under the media-savvy Pope John Paul II to get out the Church’s message through the media.
In a world of prelates who were often ill at ease when speaking with journalists, or who used convoluted phrases to express a concept, Foley’s down-to-earth, straightforward manner of engaging with the public was a refreshing departure.
Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi described Foley as being a man “truly of great spiritual level.”
“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,” Lombardi told Vatican Radio.
“He understood and encouraged our work with all his heart,” said Lombardi, who also 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.
“I was deeply saddened to learn of the death of Cardinal John Foley,” said Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput. “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.”
Foley was born in Darby. From there, he went to St. Joseph’s College, graduating in 1957, and then to seminary. He was ordained in 1962. He also earned a master’s degree in journalism at Columbia University.
When he returned to Philadelphia in 1966, he was named assistant pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish and was part of the faculty at Cardinal Dougherty High School from 1967 to 1984.
Foley was admired for his media expertise. He served as the assistant editor and Vatican correspondent for Philadelphia’s archdiocesan newspaper, The Catholic Standard & Times, and was its editor-in-chief from 1970 to 1984. He also co-produced and co-hosted the Philadelphia Catholic Hour on WFIL radio.
“I was pleased that he was able to come home during the final months of his life,” Chaput said. “No matter where he lived or how he served the Church over the years, he always considered Philadelphia his home.”
Archbishop Edwin O’Brien, who replaced Foley this year as leader of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, called Foley a man dedicated to Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church and to helping people understand it.
“He was a gifted evangelizer, explaining Catholic teaching and practice clearly and thoroughly and often with a self-deprecating humor,” O’Brien said. “He has long been regarded as the patriarch of the American Catholic press.”
Associated Press writer Frances D’Emilio in Rome contributed to this report.