February 10, 2017

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

One of my best friends in the Catholic press, Archbishop John P. Foley

John F. FinkLast week, I wrote about Cardinal Andrzej Maria Deskur, who was president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications from 1973 to 1980. This week, I want you to know more about his successor, Archbishop (later Cardinal) John Patrick Foley. He was such a good friend that I hope you won’t mind my calling him simply John.

I got to know him when I was president and publisher of Our Sunday Visitor, and he was editor of the newspaper for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, The Catholic Standard and Times. We saw each other mainly at Catholic Press Association (CPA) meetings, but I got to know him much better when the Israeli Tourist Bureau sponsored a trip to the Holy Land for the two of us, plus the editors of the Chicago and Detroit archdiocesan newspapers.

It was the first trip to the Holy Land for all four of us. Toward the end of his life, John was named a cardinal and grand master of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre. Its purpose is to promote the Christian presence in the Holy Land, and I always thought it nice that I was with John during his first visit there. (The present grand master is Cardinal Edwin O’Brien, whose first visit to the Holy Land was as a monsignor on a trip of Catholic journalists that I led in 1982.)

During Pope John Paul II’s first visit to the United States in 1979, John served as the English liaison, meeting with the press to explain what was going on.

In 1984, John was elected president of the CPA. But before he could assume that role, Pope John Paul II appointed him president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications and an archbishop. Msgr. Owen Campion, who was elected to be John’s vice president, became president of the CPA.

John was president of the council for 23 years, eventually becoming the longest-serving head of a curial department, until his appointment as grand master of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre. He resigned from that post in 2011, after he reached the age of 75, because of ill health. He died from leukemia on Dec. 11, 2011.

People who listened to the pope’s Christmas Midnight Mass from the Vatican each year heard John’s voice as he explained what was going on in the Mass. He did that for 25 years.

Through the years, I continued to see John whenever I was in Rome, but also during trips to international meetings of the Catholic Union of the Press. So John and I were together in places as varied as India, Brazil and Germany. I remember riding with him in a rickshaw from our hotel to the conference site in New Delhi. During those trips, I was usually lector and altar server for his Masses.

John was one of the wittiest men I’ve ever known. He was especially known for his puns. He was best during dinners—usually Abruzzo’s in Rome—when he talked about things that happened at the Vatican. He was well liked by all who knew him.

(John Fink’s recent series of columns on Church history is now available in book form from Amazon. It is titled How Could This Church Survive? with the subtitle, It Must Be More Than a Human Institution.)

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