Challenge of city or army, priesthood is 'great adventure'

By Dolores Madlener | Staff writer
Sunday, July 13, 2014

Father Matt Foley and Bishop Francis Kane celebrate Mass and Deacon Pablo Perez assists at the closing of the archdiocesan Parish Leadership Day at Guerin College Prep in River Grove on Feb. 22. Foley is a former U.S. Army chaplain who served four combat deployments to Afghanistan. (Karen Callaway / Catholic New World)

He is: Father Matthew (Matt) Foley, pastor of St. James Parish, Arlington Heights. Former pastor of St. Agnes of Bohemia in Little Village; former pastor of Santiago Apostol in the Sierra Madre Mountains of Mexico. Former U.S. Army military chaplain serving four combat deployments to Afghanistan. Ordained at Mundelein in 1989.

Family life: “I was born in Milwaukee and in eighth grade we moved to St. Joe’s in Libertyville. There were seven of us; I’m one of six brothers and sisters. Dad worked for the Federal government. My mom taught nursing. I went to public grammar school, Libertyville High School and Marquette University. Then I transferred to Niles Seminary and went on to Mundelein.”

Call to Priesthood: “I had good role models. I have an uncle who’s a priest and who was a good example of preaching the Gospel, ‘using words only when necessary.’ I had a wonderful family where prayer and Sunday Mass were important.”

Ministry: His first assignment was on the West Side at St. Agatha’s. “We put together a gang alternative program back then, called ‘S.A.F.E.’ (St. Agatha Family Empowerment), and it’s still around.”

Does he have a gift for handling large ministries – like the military and big rural and urban parishes? He says, “I don’t know if I have a gift – I’ve just been blessed. I enjoy different challenges.

I go where they send me. You go to serve. And you serve by listening. I think priesthood is a vocation not a profession. If you think it’s a ‘job’ you’re in the wrong ‘business.’ I approach it much like the other sacrament of service -- marriage. You serve as often and as graciously as possible. It’s a great adventure. You need to be humble ‘cause you’ve got a lot to learn, that’s for sure.”

Prayer life: “I pray morning prayer with our three priests here at St. James, which is great. I celebrate daily Mass, try to keep a yearly silent retreat, often at New Mallory with the Trappists. I have a spiritual director. I try to do two weeks of mission service back where I began in Mexico 20 years ago, and enjoy that.”

About friendship: Comedian Chris Farley from “Saturday Night Live” was on his rugby team at Marquette University. Farley named one of his characters “Matt Foley” out of their friendship. “Yes, Chris and I kept in touch over the years. I did his funeral, and his two brothers’ weddings. Chris loved the priesthood and was very passionate about Eucharist and the church.”

Downtime: “I work out in the mornings at least four days a week at a gym. But I usually spend my day off here at the rectory. I’ll take a couple days sometimes and go up to visit my uncle who’s a retired priest or see my family.

My favorite leisure author used to be Tony Morrison, but I read mostly nonfiction — biographies and history. I really liked a book on St. Francis, by Augustine Thompson, OP. Lately I’ve read one of Rick Atkinson’s books on World War II, from his ‘The Liberation Trilogy.’”

Favorite Scripture verse: “Psalm 118, verse 24, ‘This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.’”

Favorite saint: “I like St. Francis of Assisi and St. John the Baptist.”


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  • st. james parish