Sunday, June 01, 2008

Home Grown Saint?


Some exciting news was recently announced by the Diocese of Springfield, MA. The cause for beatification for Springfield born Passionist Father Theodore Foley was opened May 9th in Rome. Here is the article that appeared in The Catholic Observer.:

Canonization case opens for Springfield-born priest

By Father Bill Pomerleau

SPRINGFIELD – The cause for beatification of a Springfield-born priest, Passionist Father Theodore Foley, officially opened May 9 in Rome.

Father Foley, a native of the North End neighborhood here, was the superior general of the Congregation of the Passion, commonly known as the Passionists, from 1964 until his death in 1974.

“There are a lot of saints in western Massachusetts, most of them known only to God, their close family and friends. Here we have the possibility of a saint with a capital ‘S,’ and that’s a great tribute to the people of the diocese,” said an enthused Springfield Bishop Timothy A. McDonnell.

Widely admired within Passionist circles during and after his lifetime as a capable and diplomatic administrator of his congregation during perhaps the most tumultuous years of its history, the priest is now being more recognized as a holy and humble man by the wider church, members of the religious congregation said.

“He held the congregation together,” said Passionist Father Dominic Papa, the vice-postulator for the cause (case) for Father Foley’s possible beatification or even canonization.

Although long remembered as a holy man by American Passionists, it was largely at the urging of Spanish and Italian members of the worldwide religious community that its St. Paul of the Cross Province in the eastern United States formally gave their support in 2006 to a canonization effort.

“Shortly after he died, there was some enthusiasm among the Spanish (Passionists) to open a cause, but it never got much support from us,” Father Papa told iobserve.

Father Papa explained that, at the time, other community matters seemed to be higher priorities among American Passionists. But by the time members of Father Foley’s province held a chapter (business meeting) in May 2006, a proposal to support a canonization effort passed unanimously.

Later that year, a Passionist General Chapter, or worldwide deliberative gathering of the congregation, endorsed the proposal, and the cause began.

Since Father Foley died in Rome, the initial investigation of his life history began in the Diocese of Rome, which is technically not a part of the Vatican.

A diocesan commission headed by Cardinal Carmillo Ruini, the papal vicar for Rome, decided last year that it had accepted a petition to open a cause on behalf of Father Foley.

Last week’s ceremony, held at the Reconciliation Hall of the Lateran Palace, formally opened the cause by swearing in members of the commission who will examine the arguments for and against declaring Father Foley a possible saint.

Last week’s ceremony also means that the late Passionist leader is now formally known as “Servant of God Theodore of Mary Immaculate Foley.”

“Mary Immaculate” is the titular “middle name” which Father Foley was given upon his becoming a Passionist. Like most members of the community, he rarely used it in everyday settings.

If the Roman tribunal concludes that the Springfield native indeed lived a holy and virtuous life, he will be declared “venerable.”

The next step in the process, which would be under the jurisdiction of the Congregation for Saints’ Causes, would be to verify possible miracles attributed to the intercession of Venerable Theodore. He would then be known as “Blessed Theodore” until a second verified miracle made him eligible to be declared a saint.

Father Papa explained that just getting to last week’s ceremony involved considerable research.

Following church procedure, Father Foley’s principal postular (promoter), Italian Passionist Father Giovanni Zubiani, asked all the dioceses surrounding Rome to submit any materials or comments they had about the life of the possible saint. He also arranged to have a notification about the community’s petition posted on all Passionist monasteries and convents worldwide.

Father Zubiani also worked with Father Papa to collect previously published biographies and correspondences of Father Foley. Father Papa, who reads English better than his Italian colleague, is now helping to compile the voluminous community correspondence and personal letters written by the Springfield native.

Father Papa predicted that the diocesan phase of Father Foley’s cause may be completed in about two years. He said that while researchers are still open to receiving documentation or testimony about the possible future saint, most of the materials necessary for the process have already been gathered.

Work on the case, one of several before the Diocese of Rome, now largely consists of organizing the written materials in a way that will demonstrate that Father Foley lived a holy life.

Eventually, the postulators and other members of the diocesan tribunal will compile an Italian-language “positio,” similar to an attorney’s brief submitted to a judge, for consideration by the saints’ congregation.

Father Papa, who is also assisting with another Passionist cause in Italy, believes that his community has “a good chance” of getting Father Foley’s case to the next step in the saint-making process. He cited the comments of Cardinal Ruini, who invited the Passionist Fathers to “walk the way of sanctity, which Father Foley followed with such dedication.”

Also relevant to the process are comments made in 2006 by Pope Benedict XVI to a plenary assembly of the Congregation for Saints’ Causes.

The pope expressed concern over the number of causes being promoted, and said further instructions are needed to “safeguard the seriousness of the investigations that take place in the diocese.” He added that there must be a real “fame of holiness” and not just a conviction among a small group of people, like a religious community, that the person in question was a good person.

Ordinary origins (BF)

Who exactly was Father Foley, and why do some think he should be declared a saint?

Those who know him said that Daniel Foley, born on March 3, 1913, lived a typical childhood on Brookline Avenue in Springfield’s North End.

The son of Irish immigrants belonged to Sacred Heart Parish, one of several parishes where Passionist priests and brothers from the newly opened Our Mother of Sorrows Monastery in West Springfield preached missions.

According to a 1989 biography of Father Foley written by Passionist Father Victor Hoagland, the 13-year-old Daniel was one of three altar servers at a parish men’s mission in October 1926.

The late Father John Francis Vanston, the principal preacher at the mission, told the servers to stay in the church sacristy during the adult-oriented preaching. To amuse themselves, the teenagers “experimented” with Sacred Heart’s sacristy fuse box, replacing a fuse with a penny in the fuse box.

The power went out, and Father Vanston was not amused. Yet a younger Passionist, the late Father Vincent Connors, took an interest in the young altar servers, and soon they were visiting and making retreats at the monastery.

In January 1927, Daniel, then a freshman at Cathedral High School, wrote the Passionist provincial, asking for admission to the community.

“Up to the time of the retreat, my life was filled with worldly things and God received but a small amount of time in my selfish heart, but now I feel a call to that great honor to which I am most unworthy,” the honor student wrote to Father Justin Casey.

In the fall he entered the former Holy Cross (High School) Seminary in Dunkirk, N.Y. In August 1932, he donned the Passionist habit.

The following year he became a formal member of the community, taking the religious name Theodore. Although the ceremony took place at the West Springfield monastery, he would never be a permanent resident there.

As a novice, Theodore Foley lived in Passionist monasteries in Dunkirk, Boston, Jamaica, N.Y., and Baltimore, where he was ordained a priest in 1940.

After a year studying “sacred eloquence” (preaching) in Baltimore, he remained in that city as a philosophy teacher. He was pursued doctoral studies in theology at the Catholic University of America.

Father Foley’s mentor in Washington was Father Joseph C. Fenton, a priest of the Diocese of Springfield who would later become famous as a conservative peritus (expert) at the Second Vatican Council. While he would remain friends with Father Fenton and visit him in Rome during the council, his own theology was more “down the middle” than his famous teacher, Father Papa told iobserve last week.

From 1944 to 1953, Father Foley taught theology to Passionist seminarians at various monasteries in the eastern United States. In 1956 he was named rector of St. Paul’s Monastery in Pittsburgh.

His career changed dramatically in 1958, when his community’s general chapter selected him as one of four consulators, or assistants, to the Passionist superior general in Rome.
He was the congregations’ principal superior in English-speaking countries. He had never before traveled outside of the United States.

Six years later, he was elected head of the worldwide Passionists.

During his first few years in Rome, Father Foley’s time was largely taken up with the challenges of his community’s rapid expansion into several new countries. But when the Second Ecumenical Council opened at the Vatican in 1960, he was placed in the middle of vigorous debates that would nearly tear the community apart in the next decade.

Some Passionists, particularly its members from northern Europe and North America, interpreted the council’s call for a renewal of religious life as a call for a more “secular” mission. They favored experiments with new forms of ministry, and small group living arrangements more similar to the lifestyle of diocesan priests.

Other Passionists, particularly members in Spain and Italy, vigorously wanted the community to retain its monastic traditions.

As superior general, Father Foley was caught in the middle. “Much of his time was spent reassuring those who found change difficult, and in moderating the excesses of people who wanted radical change to take place,” Father Paul Boyle, himself a later superior general of the Passionists, told Father Hoagland for a 2006 article on the community’s Web site.

Father Zubiani, Father Foley’s postulator agreed, telling the Italian news media last week that he was “a man open to dialogue "but firm on the principles and charism of the congregation."

But the successful ministry of the late Passionist superior is not primarily explained by his administrative or diplomatic skills. His personal humility and simple lifestyle is what made him a saint, older members of the community who knew him personally said.

“He never did anything to draw attention to himself. That’s why if he were living now and knew what was going on, he’d say, ‘This is not for me,’” said Father John Baptist Pesce, a former student who lives at the Holy Family Monastery in West Harford, Conn.

“However, if he was told it (the canonization cause) was something good for the church and the glory of God, he’d say, ‘Okay,’” Father Pesce told iobserve last week.

Father Papa, who served as Father Foley’s personal secretary in Rome from 1964 to 1965, said that he is one of several Passionists who pray to a man they believe had the required spirituality of a saint.

“Father Foley was always afraid of losing his soul,” he said.

(Ken Lancaster and Cassandra Gagnon of Catholic Communications contributed to this report.)

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