Communicating Christ’s message: We hope Cardinal Foley’s legacy will inspire others to carry on his work Print
Written by Mary C. Uhler   
Thursday, Dec. 15, 2011 -- 12:00 PM

Editor's View by Mary C. Uhler

With the death of Cardinal John P. Foley on December 11, we have lost a dedicated leader who helped the Church’s message reach people throughout the world.

Many of  our readers heard his voice for 25 years on the television and radio broadcasts of the pope’s Christmas midnight Mass. Cardinal Foley always explained what was going on in a clear style. I still remember the way he pronounced “Cath - o - lic” by enunciating every syllable.

Engaging, approachable style

I knew Cardinal Foley before he went to Rome to head the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, a post he held from 1984 to 2007. Before that time, he served as editor of The Catholic Standard & Times, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

He faithfully attended the annual meetings of the Catholic Press Association, as I did. Although I was a younger staff member at that time, Cardinal Foley was always cordial. I remember riding in the elevator with him a few times and laughing at one of his jokes.

It was a surprise when I first heard him tell a joke, because he gave the impression of being quite a serious priest. He definitely was very committed to the Catholic faith, but he was also engaging, friendly, and approachable with those he met.

In 2004, I planned to make a trip to Rome with Bishop Robert Morlino’s ad limina visit. I contacted Cardinal Foley to see if I could stop and see him. Unfortunately, he said he would be out of the country visiting Australia.

On my way out of Rome at the airport, we crossed paths as Cardinal Foley was returning and I was leaving. He saw me and stopped to talk, saying he was sorry he missed my visit.

This year, Cardinal Foley came to our Catholic Media Convention in Pittsburgh to receive a life-time achievement award. Even though he was suffering from the effects of leukemia, he spoke to those present, thanking all of us for our work in Catholic media. I chatted with him briefly and mentioned my membership in the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of which he had served as the grand master, saying that I would keep him in my prayers.

Long interest in the media

During his lifetime, Cardinal Foley had a long interest in the media. Catholic News Service reported that his media experience dated back to the seventh grade, when he started writing radio plays on the lives of the saints. Not only were his plays aired, but when he was 14 he was asked to be an announcer for Sunday morning programming at a local radio station in Philadelphia.

He graduated from the School of Journalism at Columbia University in New York and completed his graduate studies in philosophy  in Rome, where he worked as a news reporter. His “beat” included covering the Second Vatican Council from 1963 to 1965.

Throughout his work with the Pontifical Council, he tried to make the Church more accessible and understandable to the media. He would summarize papal documents so the press could better understand them. He expanded journalists’ access to the pope and Vatican offices.

Continuing his legacy

As the Catholic Church works to promote the “new evangelization” in spreading the Church’s mission and message throughout the world, we can thank Cardinal Foley for his tireless efforts for so many years. He built a foundation for making the Gospel known through the mass media.

Pope Benedict XVI, in commenting on his death, said he hoped the legacy of the late Cardinal Foley would inspire others to carry on his work.
There are many of us in the Catholic media who are indeed following in his footsteps — and hopefully more will continue to see this as a possible career and a vocation.  There are many positions on the staffs of  Catholic newspapers, magazines, book publishers, radio stations, Web sites, and diocesan offices of communication that need committed Catholics.

We hope that Cardinal Foley’s example will show that professionalism and faith can go hand-in-hand in the work of communicating Christ’s message.