Brian T. Olszewski, The Catholic Virginian
Bishop David E. Foley, 88, who served as auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Richmond from 1986 to 1994, passed away Tuesday, April 17, in Birmingham, Alabama.
Early in March, the bishop, who led the Diocese of Birmingham from 1994 until his retirement in 2005, had been diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. He had already been undergoing treatment for a malignancy of the bone marrow.
In a statement Wednesday, April 18, Bishop Barry C. Knestout, who, as a teen, recalled meeting Bishop Foley when the latter was a priest in the Archdiocese of Washington. Later, as vicar general and auxiliary bishop in Washington, Bishop Knestout would encounter him on various occasions.
“I remember Bishop Foley as a man of great kindness and gentle disposition,” he said. “Yet, I know he also provided pastoral care as auxiliary bishop here in the Diocese of Richmond and later as the bishop of Birmingham with a firm and competent hand.”
Msgr. Robert Perkins, who was the diocese’s vicar for clergy during the time Bishop Foley served in the diocese, last spoke with him on Sunday, April 8.
“He was extremely peaceful,” the priest said. “He was an inspiration in how he was dealing with his illness.”
Msgr. Perkins said Bishop Foley was “truly a hard worker.”
“Every weekend since his retirement, he has been on the road — giving talks, giving retreats, helping out at parishes,” the priest said, noting that up until a few months ago, the bishop was still driving.
Msgr. Perkins, who considered the bishop “a close friend,” said there was a sucinct way to describe him.
“He was very, very pastoral priest and bishop with a very genuine compassionate heart,” the priest said.
Msgr. Thomas Shreve, who knew Bishop Foley from their seminary days — “although he was a few years ahead of me” — called him “a classic parish priest.”
“The priest liked him. He had an ability to be at home with the priests,” Msgr. Shreve said. “He was always available to and supportive of the priests.”
The bishop’s concern didn’t end there, according to the priest.
“He saw the goodness of the people in the pews and knew they needed encouragement and support,” Msgr. Shreve said. “He came here and brought that whole sense of being approachable, thoughtful, pleasant to people, and of providing support and encouragement for priests.”
Bishop Foley was a native of Worcester, Massachusetts, but the family moved to Washington when he was 4. He was ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of Washington May 26, 1956.
He was appointed auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Richmond, May 3, 1986, and ordained June 27.
On March 22, 1994, Bishop Foley became the bishop of the Diocese of Birmingham, Alabama, where he served until his retirement May 10, 2005.
The Mass of Christian Burial for Bishop Foley will be celebrated Monday, April 23, at the Cathedral of St. Paul, Birmingham.
Editor’s note: Another story regarding Bishop Foley is scheduled to appear in the May 7 issue of The Catholic Virginian.