Msgr. John Foley — a man remembered for bringing laughter, compassion and good sense to those he served during more than half a century of ministry in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles — died on March 1. He was 81.
Msgr. John, or Father Jack to those who knew him, was born in Ballynahinch, Northern Ireland, on March 5, 1935. He was ordained a priest in California on June 14, 1959, leaving behind family and friends in Ireland but bringing with him to Los Angeles his love of Irish folksongs, storytelling and good drink.
Once when at a retreat in an austere, cut-off monastery, Father Jack invited a fellow Irish priest to skip out on a before dinner prayer service. “We’ll change a Holy Hour into a Happy Hour,” he told Father Gerard O’Brien, pastor of Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church in Pasadena. Father Jack was waiting in his rooms with Scotch whiskey, cheese and crackers.
“If you went to Jack Foley, he’d lift up your spirits,” Father O’Brien said during the homily at Father Jack’s funeral Mass on March 11. “Jack taught me about the spirit of the priesthood.”
The two Irishmen became fast friends after Father Jack heard that Father O’Brien was homesick for Ireland. They would meet for breakfast and remained close. “I had to learn to be patient,” Father O’Brien quipped. “Because he did all the talking.”
Sometimes talking got Father Jack in trouble. They both spoke Gaelic, and once while enjoying a meal at a restaurant, Father Jack noticed a heavyset man in another booth. “He’s a large man,” Father Jack whispered in Gaelic. “The man’s head popped up and he says, ‘I know what you said!’” The man was also a priest from Ireland, Father O’Brien told the laughing congregation. “Jack’s face went white.”
Father O’Brien said that his friend embodied the advice he once received from a wise older priest soon after being ordained. “First have lots of compassion and love, be kind, be happy in the priesthood and have lots and lots of common sense.”
“Jack Foley enfleshed those words in the way he ministered to people.”
Parishioners from Holy Redeemer Church in Montrose and Immaculate Conception Church in Monrovia, where Father Jack carried out the bulk of his ministry, took to Facebook to express their condolences, with many calling him their favorite priest.
Doris Slinger wrote, “Father Foley was my favorite priest. Missed him giving Mass at [Immaculate Conception]. He had a way of making you feel special. He’d smile or laugh and it just was so sweet. Rest in peace Father Foley. And thank you for sharing your warmth with Monrovia.”
Ingrid Bueno wrote that a friend passed on to her some of Father Jack’s advice. He had said, “God won’t ask, ‘How did you do with time tables?’ He will ask, ‘Were you a good friend?’”
Many of Father Jack’s nephews and nieces in Ireland were unable to attend the funeral Mass, but they wrote a letter saying they were “heartbroken” to lose such a special uncle.
“He came home to Ireland every summer from 1959, and each time he set aside time for visiting family across the country,” they wrote.
Many of Father Jack’s nephews and nieces had visited him during his 12-month battle with cancer at the end of his life, and they wrote that he still greeted them as if they were “the most important person in the room.” Despite his frailty and illness, he laughed and joked with them like old times.
“He was our Uncle Jack. We love him dearly, and he will always be missed.”