October 10, 2014

MISSION MATTERS MANY VOICES: 'Not Much Makes Sense, But Faith Did'

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In August of this year, James Foley, a 1996 graduate of the College of Arts and Sciences at Marquette University, was killed by ISIS. It was a clear reminder that life is precious, and that our prayers for peace are needed now more than ever.

The Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities (AJCU) has invited all 28 Jesuit colleges and universities in the United States to remember and to honor James Foley. On Saturday, Oct. 18, when Foley would have celebrated his 41st birthday, his family will celebrate his life at a funeral Mass.

Honoring his contributions toward justice and freedom in the press, and in memory of all others who have died this year at the hands of ISIS, the AJCU invited us to unite our 28 Jesuit colleges and universities in solidarity, and honor the memory of an alumnus who was a true man for others and American hero, and to dedicate a Mass or interfaith prayer service for peace on our campus.

In solidarity with Marquette, with James Foley and his family, with victims of ISIS and senseless violence in our world and with the 27 other US Jesuit colleges and universities, Saint Louis University will dedicate all residence hall Masses and the Upper Room Praise and Worship service during this week to a fervent prayer for peace and justice, and to his memory.

Additionally, St. Francis Xavier College Church will dedicate all Friday Masses to peace and justice, as well.

Campus Ministry, as part of the year-long Faith and Justice Speaker Series will dedicate the Sunday, Oct. 26, discussion to an understanding of peace and justice, an ongoing concern for all of us. The discussion will be held from 6:30 to 8 p.m. in the lower ballroom of College Church.


This article, written by James Foley, appeared in the fall 2011 issue of Marquette Magazine, following his first capture earlier that year. Foley was killed in August 2014 following a second capture in 2012.

Phone call home: A letter from James Foley, Arts '96, to Marquette

Marquette University has always been a friend to me. The kind who challenges you to do more and be better and ultimately shapes who you become.

With Marquette, I went on some volunteer trips to South Dakota and Mississippi and learned I was a sheltered kid and the world had real problems. I came to know young people who wanted to give their hearts for others. Later I volunteered in a Milwaukee junior high school up the street from the university and was inspired to become an inner-city teacher. But Marquette was perhaps never a bigger friend to me than when I was imprisoned as a journalist.

Myself and two colleagues had been captured and were being held in a military detention center in Tripoli. Each day brought increasing worry that our moms would begin to panic. My colleague, Clare, was supposed to call her mom on her birthday, which was the day after we were captured. I had still not fully admitted to myself that my mom knew what had happened. But I kept telling Clare my mom had a strong faith.

I prayed she'd know I was OK. I prayed I could communicate through some cosmic reach of the universe to her.

I began to pray the rosary. It was what my mother and grandmother would have prayed. I said 10 Hail Marys between each Our Father. It took a long time, almost an hour to count 100 Hail Marys off on my knuckles. And it helped to keep my mind focused.

Clare and I prayed together out loud. It felt energizing to speak our weaknesses and hopes together, as if in a conversation with God, rather than silently and alone.

Later we were taken to another prison where the regime kept hundreds of political prisoners. I was quickly welcomed by the other prisoners and treated well.

One night, 18 days into our captivity, some guards brought me out of the cell. In the hall I saw Manu, another colleague, for the first time in a week. We were haggard but overjoyed to see each other. Upstairs in the warden's office, a distinguished man in a suit stood and said, "We felt you might want to call your families."

I said a final prayer and dialed the number. My mom answered the phone. "Mom, Mom, it's me, Jim."

"Jimmy, where are you?"

"I'm still in Libya, Mom. I'm sorry about this. So sorry."

"Don't be sorry, Jim," she pleaded. "Oh, Daddy just left. Oh ... He so wants to talk to you. How are you, Jim?" I told her I was being fed, that I was getting the best bed and being treated like a guest.

"Are they making you say these things, Jim?"

"No, the Libyans are beautiful people," I told her. "I've been praying for you to know that I'm OK," I said. "Haven't you felt my prayers?"

"Oh, Jimmy, so many people are praying for you. All your friends, Donnie, Michael Joyce, Dan Hanrahan, Suree, Tom Durkin, Sarah Fang have been calling. Your brother Michael loves you so much." She started to cry. "The Turkish embassy is trying to see you and also Human Rights Watch. Did you see them?" I said I hadn't.

"They're having a prayer vigil for you at Marquette. Don't you feel our prayers?" she asked.

"I do, Mom, I feel them," and I thought about this for a second. Maybe it was others' prayers strengthening me, keeping me afloat.

The official made a motion. I started to say goodbye. Mom started to cry. "Mom, I'm strong. I'm OK. I should be home by Katie's graduation," which was a month away.

"We love you, Jim!" she said. Then I hung up.

I replayed that call hundreds of times in my head — my mother's voice, the names of my friends, her knowledge of our situation, her absolute belief in the power of prayer. She told me my friends had gathered to do anything they could to help. I knew I wasn't alone.

My last night in Tripoli, I had my first Internet connection in 44 days and was able to listen to a speech Tom Durkin gave for me at the Marquette vigil. To a church full of friends, alums, priests, students and faculty, I watched the best speech a brother could give for another. It felt like a best man speech and a eulogy in one. It showed tremendous heart and was just a glimpse of the efforts and prayers people were pouring forth.

If nothing else, prayer was the glue that enabled my freedom, an inner freedom first and later the miracle of being released during a war in which the regime had no real incentive to free us.

It didn't make sense, but faith did.

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