By Thomas N. Lorsung
Former CNS director and editor in chief
John Patrick Cardinal Foley was both formal and funny.
Even when facing a deadly bout with leukemia, he kept his sense of humor. When he retired as grand master of the Knights of the Holy Sepulcher, he returned to his native Philadelphia to deal with his serious illness and was interviewed sympathetically by the local daily press. Responding to a comment that it was a good story, he quipped, “That might be the first time leukemia was seen as good.”
Pardon me if that vignette doesn’t make you laugh quite as hard as those of us who heard it directly from him. He deadpanned the details until the punch line and then delivered it with the proverbial twinkle in his eye.
You missed something if you only saw one side of Cardinal Foley. (I’ve probably known him for 40 years, but never called him John, but that’s another story.) He pronounced every syllable when he spoke or prayed; he followed liturgical rules to the letter. I don’t think that he owned a plaid shirt.
But his punning was legendary and his mock-Dracula accent in telling stories about international dignitaries was hilarious. Happily, my wife, Mary, and several members of our family enjoyed these qualities during visits to Rome over the years.
As director of Catholic News Service, I appreciated his unwavering and enthusiastic support for our work, but he was also a friend to the Catholic press around the world, as I witnessed during Pontifical Council for Social Communications meetings in Rome and in international gatherings from Brazil to Bangkok.
As I mentioned, I never called him by his first name because I wanted to honor his sense of propriety. Somehow he wasn’t John or Jack.
I think of two things now that he has passed: my favorite prayer for the dead, “May the angels lead him into Paradise;” and the prayer which he unfailingly and immediately said upon hearing of a death, “May his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.”
Thomas N. Lorsung retired as director and editor in chief of Catholic News Service at the end of 2003, after a career at CNS which began three decades earlier.