Symposium for Theodore Foley, C.P. Jamaica, New York, October 9, 2006

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Father Theodore Foley, C.P.

by Father Rob Carbonneau, C.P., Ph.D.

“Those who knew Theodore and especially those who worked and lived with him have always held him in great esteem. In Rome I found holy cards with his image and prayers. He was especially dear to the Spanish and Italian Passionists. It was often said that he should be canonized. I realize that we may not be as insistent on these processes in our Province or in the U.S. as other countries and provinces (cf. P.I.B. and listing of Passionists for Venerable, etc.) Nevertheless, I have asked Father Caspar Caulfield, for some time now, to gather information about Theodore. I think it may be time to do something officially-is should be done by his own Province. I will be consulting the communities about this in the fall.”

The above announcement was printed in the Province Newsletter (July-August) 1983. Father Brendan Keevey, C.P. was provincial at the time.

I. The above notation from 1983 sets the stage for my comments today.

This examination on the life of Father Theodore Foley, C.P. here at Jamaica, New York is an opportunity to understand graces given over these past years. Our looking at the life of Theodore Foley in terms of possible beatification is a reminder to ask ourselves several questions.

  • what does it mean to be holy-for everyone?
  • what does it mean to be a Passionist in the United States and world-wide?
  • what does it mean to recommit to service in the Gospel and the Church?

It is an opportunity of grace. This can lead to abundant blessings.

II. I serve the Commission in my capacity as an historian and Director of the Passionist Historical Archives.

I never knew Father Theodore Foley. I was at his funeral. At the same time I am committed to understand the clarity of this desire to seek his beatification. Consequently, my observations and questions, hopefully, will assist in giving a pulse to the heart of information which may assist in determining if there is indeed merit to beatify Theodore Foley.

III. An October 7, 1983 letter of Caspar Caulfield.

In the letter was the recommendation that I be asked to assist Father Caulfield in gathering information on the life of Father Foley. To my recollection, now as I look back, there was some conversation with Father Caulfield on this topic in a general manner but there was never any formal participation on my part in such an effort.

Another point of the 1983 letter suggests that Father Norbert Dorsey, C.P. be assigned as the writer of the Foley biography. There was a desire especially to get material for such a biography from the family members of Foley. Caulfield, in particular, wanted information on Foley: “especially of his action in Rome as General, and Head of the Congregation during the stormy years of the Extraordinary Chapters when the Rule was rewritten. His harmonizing influences,” wrote Caulfield, “between radicals and conservatives and staunchness under pressure was probably the culmination of his life.”

IV. Immediate Questions

  • The above information goes back to 1983 when a data collection process on Foley was initiated. After that there was a slow down of the process of investigation even though that same process of investigation proved helpful in Father Victor Hoagland, C.P. writing Foley’s biographical summary. For the purposes of documentation, we might wish to have an accurate summary as to the steps that were taken in having Father Hoagland write the biography.
  • Over the last ten years or so the topic Foley has emerged at the past provincial chapters prior to 2006. In fact, I was on the committee. My recollection is that when discussion came to the floor at those chapters there was general agreement that Foley was indeed a holy man. However, at the same time there was no real ground swell to seek pursuing the cause.
  • Then at the 2006 provincial chapter there emerged on the floor a signed document by our Passionist Superior General that the cause should be pursued. As I recall there was no preliminary discussion that this agenda item was discussed prior to the Chapter. While I suspect it is fine to have the signed document that states the desire for the cause, it is also, I would suggest most important to document the steps that were involved to get this document to the floor. I say this for two reasons. First, because no real new information had been gathered since the Hoagland biography. Second, and most important, is that knowledge of the process to get the proposal to the floor of our 2006 chapter could only clarify the support and understanding of all those who truly wish to know about the truth surrounding the proposed Foley cause. In effect, my comments are to emphasize the point that clarity and perspective has to be given how this proposal did in fact emerge at the 2006 Provincial Chapter. This information will only help to educate members of the Passionist Congregation and the general public to participate to the fullest extent possible. Again, let me be clear. I am seeking for a full understanding-documented as much as possible-so we can all participate in the Foley cause to the best way possible.

V Some General Questions

  • I am increasingly trying to understand the role of the holy man or holy woman or saint in the public world of today. To this end, I would hope and encourage the notion that a greater knowledge of Theodore Foley might heal and motivate the Passionist Congregation first and foremost. I state this because if Theodore Foley does not speak to us Passionists then how can we in fact speak to the people about his sense of holiness.
  • Perhaps some of the following dimensions might impact the life of the Passionists from an increased understanding of Theodore Foley
    • Might we become clearer in our service of the Gospel?
    • Might our personal holiness increase?
    • Might our social integration together as Passionists improve on various levels?
    • Initially Theodore Foley came from a world of defined rituals of religious life. As the years went on he was faced with the challenge to understand and live in a world of undefined rituals and possibilities that made up religious life. Consequently, we might ask how his journey of facing change reflects and teaches us in our journey of facing change?
    • Can we look at Theodore Foley and develop, as he did, to be better listeners, kinder, sincere, most responsive to each other as we live together, more aware of how we minister together, and more in tune of how we pray together?
    • Perhaps the common sense of how we understand being Passionists ourselves may be the first test of understanding the true nature of the “cause” of Theodore Foley?
    • Can the voice and life of Theodore Foley impact our voice and life?
  • In other words, these above points suggest the possibility that if his life and virtues do not speak to us in some way then it increases the possibility that his virtues may have less of a chance of being able to speak to people in general who may seek to implore him through prayer.

VI Theodore Foley and the Public

  • I have heard people say that the sanctity of the saints emerge through the response and faith of the people who believe and have faith. In this sense, who are the people who will understand and pray to Theodore Foley?
    • Will it be a person in a hospital facing surgery?
    • Will it be a person in a recovery program?
    • Will it be a business person who has to undertake long distance travel and participate in numerous meetings?
    • Will it be a family faced with stress?
    • Will it be people who seek world peace?
    • Will it be people who wish to express how they understand their blessings and wish to offer thanks?
  • The above situations, I suggest, capture in part the world of the people to whom and with whom we minister. In this context we might wonder how will the voice of these people be raised and what relationships will develop with them by means of petition and prayer?
  • Another way of stating this is to suggest that the life of Theodore Foley has the possibility of speaking to a wide range of people. Initial conversation at the Commission meetings thus far have given me the impression that the nature of the relationship between the people and Theodore Foley is vague at best. Moreover, it appears that the Commission is trying to define the nature of the relationship between the people and Theodore Foley. This observation is to suggest that more clarity is needed on the way that the life of the people intersect with the “cause” of Theodore Foley. A yardstick might be to ask what will the people associated with our ministries see and learn and pray when they come to understand the “cause” of Theodore Foley?

VII Additional Points

  • To my understanding Theodore Foley wrote no major essays or spiritual testament. His writings are the letters he sent out as Superior General of the Passionists.
  • Some years ago, I had the opportunity to examine, in a cursory manner, the papers of Theodore Foley at the Passionist General Archives in Rome. As I recall now, I remember being struck at that time that there was a lack of intensity to the nature of the correspondence. This was particularly the case given the fact that his leadership correspondence coincided with the end of the Vatican Council in 1965 and the post-Conciliar period.
  • The lack of intensity related to his writings suggest to me that Theodore Foley was very much a face to face person rather than a person of promulgation.
  • Recently The Passionist Historical Archives accessioned the travel notebooks kept by Father Caspar Caulfield, C.P. when he was the Passionist Mission Secretary. These notes tend to confirm Foley’s face to face approach. Foley and Caulfield often traveled together on visitation. Again, a cursory examination of the notes indicates Foley did not take an aggressive outward approach during the post-Conciliar era and at the various places he traveled throughout the world. One must ask if this first analysis of the Caulfield documentation says more about the Caulfield or Foley? Did Caulfield and Foley agree on principles of overseas missions and evangelization?
  • I write the above with the hope that the Committee realizes that more research is necessary to appreciate just how Theodore Foley came to understand the immediate and post-Conciliar experience. More directly, what was the zeal that motivated the sense of Theodore Foley at this time. Was it zeal that made him look with hope or anxiety or even perhaps despair towards the future?
  • The intellectual sense of Theodore Foley has to take into account that one of his academic advisors at The Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C. was Father Clifford Fenton who in the end was in staunch opposition to the progressives at Vatican II. True, Fenton was only Foley’s teacher, but did some of the thought of Fenton allow for the nurturing of an anxious feeling towards the future on the part of Foley? Or was Foley able to move in a different direction than his teacher?
  • I suspect that one of the key points that the Committee must truly understand is how Theodore Foley viewed the Extraordinary Passionist Chapter of 1968, and the formulation of the Madrid Document which was so instrumental to the Passionist Final Chapter Document which emerged in 1970. Furthermore, some insight into his approach to these events in 1968 and 1970 might be found in any notations that he might have had which express his view of the proposed 1959 revision of the Passionist Rule of Life.
  • Closely aligned with the above point are numerous questions:
    • If Foley found himself more in concert with the Italians and Spaniards in the Extraordinary Chapter why was this so? My understanding is that they tended to be in the less progressive camp. Given the observation that the Spanish and Italian Passionists have held Foley’s holiness in perhaps greater regard than the United States Passionists it might well be that Foley was, as Superior General, able to gain their trust and raise their more traditional voice and expression of Passionist rituals as regards prayer and life in common and ministry.
    • At the same time, my analysis shows that there is little documentation that tells us how Foley viewed Barnabas Ahern, C.P. who was able to act, in a sense, as bridge between the those who loved Passionist tradition and those who were progressive. By the progressives I mean how did Foley relate to the likes of Flavian Dougherty, C..P., Harry Gielen, Austin Smith, C.P.?
    • Was Foley a political animal that allowed him to move through all these groups? Did he lead in public? Did he lead by delegation? Was he quiet? Was Foley’s strategy to let the conflict be public or was the conflict public because he had lost control of what he saw the end result to be?
    • Was Foley in favor of experimentation? For instance did he back new methods of evangelization such as the worker priests in France, the House of Solitude in Birmingham, Alabama/Bedford, Pennsylvania, Staten Island? Did he subscribe to liberation theology? What did the Dutch and Belgian Passionists think of him. I heard that he found his visits there to be most confrontational. Is that true?
    • All the answers to these questions help us appreciate his leadership style and corresponding sense of spirituality as it became operative in the life of the Passionist Congregation and the church at large. It helps us answer what type of person he was.
  • Paramount in the above discussion is getting information on Theodore Foley from the Spanish and Italian Passionists. Are they willing to assist in documenting and helping us understand his life and making it known to the public?
  • Even more crucial is the fact that my experience as an historian has taught me that answering the above questions will mean that whoever studies the life of Theodore Foley will have to consult the various Passionist and Roman archives. I can testify that the post-1960 Passionist archives in various provinces of the Congregation will be found in various states of organization and dis-organization. The reason for this is that it was during the 1960s that the process of Passionist record keeping changed. As a result, I suspect that finding hard documentation on the life of Theodore Foley will be a tremendous challenge.
  • At the same time, verifying the opinions and gaining the necessary permissions of those who wish to give oral interviews will also prove to be a challenge. This is just the nature of historical inquiry at this time. Furthermore, it is of urgent importance to project the cost of such research before the task is undertaken. To this end, a collaboration project with defined time and goals might well be the course to follow.
  • Then there is a major question to answer. Is the plan and end result cost effective to research and write the life of Theodore Foley?

VIII Conversations with Passionists

  • In West Hartford, Connecticut I had the opportunity to sit around the morning breakfast table and speak with Father Nick Gill, C.P. about Theodore Foley. Gill thought Foley to be calm during student life. He was good in sports. He is remembered as never taking strong positions on topics as a student. Gill was a student with Foley at The Catholic University of America. They would go on long walks together. One incident was that Foley was once inclined to wish that the Sunday night meal be rushed along so that he get the necessary time to study for class. That, says Gill, brought out an emotional side.
  • Father Julian Morgan, C.P. suggests that Theodore Foley can be seen as an introvert. Morgan agrees that it is the grace of the Church that will have to understand the holiness of Foley in depth. One perspective shared by Morgan was the sense that perhaps Foley was “allowed” to go on to a leadership position in Rome as a general consultor because his leadership credentials were perceived to be a threat against other Passionists who sought leadership in St. Paul of the Cross Province at that time. As far as Foley being a leader as rector of the Pittsburgh Passionist community, Morgan remembers Foley to have helped foster a spirit of prayer and social grace which came to permeate the membership. This is important because it was a community where the novices resided. In listening to this comment it came to my mind as an historian that perhaps this was the notion of prayerful spirit that attracted the Spanish and Italian Passionists to him.

IX Conclusion

  • In effect I am suggesting in this presentation that, overall, the holiness of Theodore Foley continues to accentuate the need for knowing the 20th century Passionist story. Which Passionist is Theodore Foley if we say, as has been suggested that he is a “bridge over troubled water.” Given the fact of his untimely death we might ask on what side of the bridge did he find it more comfortable to live? By this I mean do we truly know his opinion as to which pastoral direction he was hoping to lead the Passionists in the 1970s?
  • Some might think these thoughts I have offered to be too internal. Some might say these points are for Passionists only and do not relate to the public holiness which the people of God live and feel especially as it serves the “cause” of Theodore Foley. I suggest, in fact, that these questions speak very much to our time. It is a priority to answer these questions for our stability as Passionists and the stability of the faith and piety of the discerning people who might seek the consolation and grace of Theodore Foley.