Anniversaries are important. They mark achievements, rites of passage, and the passing of time. The greater the number of years that are noted, the more significant is the anniversary. On Saturday, 7 June 2014, an anniversary was observed. No precedent for it was found in the annals of the Church in Canada and it is likely never to be repeated. But when a courageous and personable priest reaches a milestone anniversary of seventy–five years of faithful service to God and His people, the celebration is so incredibly joyful that you can feel our Lord’s delight in His loyal servant, Monsignor Vincent Foy.
For many months, a dedicated group of organizers tirelessly worked out the many details befitting such an occasion. There was the Holy Mass at St. Lawrence Martyr with the added aspects of planning a Solemn Mass in the Extraordinary Form with Cardinal Thomas Collins presiding and delivering the homily on the Vigil of the Feast of Pentecost. Afterwards, there was the luncheon for three hundred invited guests, many of whom knew Msgr. Foy personally or were connected through various groups, publications, and pro-life causes that he championed.
Exuding graciousness, Msgr. Foy greeted his guests as they arrived at the church. He assisted at the Solemn Mass in choir vested in rochit and mantelletta, vesture proper to his rank as a Domestic Prelate.
In his homily, Cardinal Collins expressed appreciation for Msgr. Foy’s many years of service. He likened life to a marathon, and on the Vigil of the Feast of Pentecost, he acknowledged Msgr. Foy’s fortitude in the continuing marathon of his life. Cardinal Collins also noted that the Feast of Pentecost is particularly important to all priests who should be “humble, docile, obedient servants of God’s grace” and must preach the Gospel with “integrity and fidelity” each day. The gift of the priesthood was given to Msgr. Foy seventy-five years ago, Cardinal Collins continued, and he has been a “humble instrument of God’s grace” for all these years.
An Apostolic (Papal) Blessing was granted to Msgr. Foy by means of a letter from the Papal Nuncio to Canada, Archbishop Luigi Bonazzi, and read to the congregation by Cardinal Collins. As well, a plenary indulgence was granted to all in attendance by Pope Francis through Cardinal Collins.
Few words can capture the life and legacy of one who so “fearlessly articulated and defended the teachings of the Church—in a time of moral and doctrinal chaos in the Church in Canada” (msgrfoy.com). In their attempt to summarize Msgr. Foy’s seventy-five years of holy priesthood, the organizers had the following inscribed on the beautiful gift of a cake that was served at the luncheon: Ecce sacerdos magnus qui in diebus suis placuit Deo. Behold a great high priest who in his days was pleasing to God.
Msgr. Foy gave his reflections on this occasion as follows:
Your Eminence, Rev. Monsignors, Rev. Fathers, Sisters and friends:
This occasion reminds me of many events in my priesthood.
Nearly ninety years ago my mother was in St. Michael’s Hospital during the birth of my sister Doreen. My mother’s younger sister was also in the hospital at the same time and died of double pneumonia while giving birth to her third child. My mother was not told of this but also contracted double pneumonia.
The doctor was certain she also would die and asked my father to prepare us. My father spoke to my two brothers and me. He told us that God was calling our mother to Heaven and that we must be brave.
After this, I paced the floor, tears running down my face. I told God that if He spared my mother, I would do my best to become a priest. That night my mother began to get better, to the surprise of the doctor. She lived to see her eight children reach maturity and died at the age of eighty-four. I never told her of my promise.
From that time I never wavered in my resolve to try to become a priest.
While still in primary school, I was asked to give a talk at our Junior Holy Name Society. I spoke on the duties of a priest and still have the page-long talk.
In 1933, I entered St. Augustine’s Seminary, in the last class admitted by Archbishop Neil McNeil, who died in May of 1934. Archbishop McGuigan succeeded him. He visited us in 1935 and told us there were too many of us for Toronto and that if we did not volunteer to go elsewhere, some of us would be asked to leave. We all went in, one by one, and told the rector Msgr. Brennan, that we would go wherever we were sent.
Two were sent to Kingston, two were sent to the new diocese of Nelson, British Columbia, two to Victoria, and two of us were sent away to study. There were thirty-four in our class, seventeen of them for Toronto.
I am the only survivor of the thirty-four ordained in 1939. None became bishops. There were six monsignors and six worked in foreign missions. One, Fr. Hank McFadden of Ogdensburg, was a chaplain in World War II and decorated with a medal for bravery. Most became parish priests. Two became chancellors of their dioceses.
In September of 1938, the seminary rector Msgr. Brennan called me in. He said I would be ordained in ten days and the Archbishop would take me to Rome to take my last year of theology and first year of post-graduate canon law. I was to get my Mass up and was to tell no one but I could call my parents to say goodbye. I studied hard to learn the Latin Mass and packed my bags. The night before the date set for my ordination, I knocked on the rector’s door. I said “I believe I am to be ordained tomorrow.”
He looked surprised. “Oh,” he said, “I forgot to tell you. It is all off. Unpack your bags. You are going to be ordained with the rest of the class next June. The Archbishop will take you to Rome next summer.”
So, I was ordained on 3 June 1939, and for the summer was stationed at St. Catherine’s Church in the Niagara Peninsula, which at that time was part of the Archdiocese of Toronto. The Archbishop visited me in mid-summer and told me to pack my bags at the end of August, when he would take me to Rome.
I packed my bags and was ready to go on the last day of August. That day, the war broke out, so I could not go. Fr. Cullinane, the pastor, told the school children that I had volunteered to go to Rome by submarine, but the Archbishop thought it was too dangerous.
I thought that was the end of it, but two weeks later, I had a phone call from the Archbishop. He told me to pack my bags and be at the chancery office the next day. I was going to the Catholic University at Washington.
The following morning, I was in the Archbishop’s office. He told me that Dr. Motry, Dean of the Canon Law faculty at Washington, was expecting me. Lectures had already started. He gave me the necessary papers, including my seminary marks and had the Chancellor, Fr. Callaghan, phone Dr. Motry. Dr. Motry said, “Yes, we are expecting Fr. Foy.” When he was asked where I was to go, he said “Oh, that is under Dr. Armand, who looks after the residence for student priests. You will have to phone him.” Fr. Callaghan phoned Dr. Armand who said: “I am sorry but we can’t take him. Because of the war, every room is taken.” Fr. Callaghan said, “You can unpack your bags. You are not going.”
When I told the Archbishop he said, “Well, that is too bad. Oh, I just remembered. Two weeks ago, I had a letter from Fr. Bureau of Laval University in Quebec City. He said that because of the war, they were looking for students.”
So that night, I was on the train for Quebec, where I spent three years. There were thirteen students and twelve professors, some for Europe, including the world famous Gommarius Michels. I was the only one who spoke English. All courses in Canon Law were in Latin. Only the courses in Roman Law and International Law were in French. I lived at the “Maison des Etudiants” about half an hour walk from the university.
After my doctoral year, I was named Vice-Chancellor of Toronto. At first I lived at Blessed Sacrament parish rectory and went to the chancery office each day by streetcar. From a priest at Blessed Sacrament, I contracted tuberculosis and spent two years in bed. I was nine months in the Hamilton Sanitorium. There I had one lung collapsed, was in a six bed ward, and going downhill. When the Archbishop saw me, he had me transferred to San Gabriel’s, near Saranac Lake, New York.
It was run by the Sisters of Mercy and I received excellent care. After fifteen months there, I returned to Toronto and was Vice-Chancellor under Bishop Allen. In 1946, I was appointed to the Regional Matrimonial Tribunal and was there for over twenty years.
Next I was pastor of three parishes. I spent a year and a half in Rome, during the time of three popes. I had my rosary blessed by Pope Paul VI and served as Eucharistic Minister at his funeral. Just before the coffin was closed, I touched my rosary to his hand. I had my rosary blessed by Pope John Paul I and again touched it to his hand when I served as Eucharistic Minister at his funeral. I served at the first Mass of Pope John Paul II and my rosary was blessed by him. I hope to be buried with that rosary.
I had my share of sick calls. I recall that my knees were shaking when I climbed the firemen’s ladder to the top deck of a ship called the Noronic when it burned in Toronto Harbour in 1959 and 119 people were burned to death.
My greatest privilege of course was the celebration of Masses over so many years. I said Mass at Our Lady of Guadalupe Shrine in Mexico, at the church in Dublin which had a major relic of St. Valentine sent to Ireland by the pope as a sign of love during the famine of 1847, at Ars in France, at Lourdes, and in a small village in Hungary during the Communist occupation. I offered Mass beside the body of Pope St. Pius X in St. Mark’s in Venice. He had said when he left for the conclave of 1903 that he would return to Venice living or dead.
My writings are on the Internet now. I agree with the great theologian Fr. John Hardon SJ, that the greatest evil in the Church today is the contraceptive mentality, which has left Canada and elsewhere with a suicidal birthrate.
My thanks are first of all due to God, the Father of all good, to Our Blessed Mother, to my parents and teachers and many others.
God bless you all. An inner voice is telling me that I should pack my bags for eternity. Amen. (3 June 2014)
Photo credit (Msgr. Foy greeting his guests): msgrfoy.com.
Photo credit (Elevation of the Holy Eucharist and Monsignor Foy giving his reflection): DunnMedia and EWTN.
These stills are from a film being produced by DunnMedia for the Eternal World Television Network on the life and times of Msgr. Vincent Foy.