About 90 years ago, a young boy was told he was going to lose his mother to double pneumonia. The woman was fighting for her life at Toronto's St. Michael's Hospital after giving birth to a baby girl, the boy's sister.
He begged God to spare her life. "If my mother recovers," the boy prayed, "I will do my best to become a priest."
The woman recovered and the boy remained true to his promise; a promise that he kept a secret for the duration of his mother's life.
Monsignor Vincent Foy eventually became the longest-ordained priest in the history of the Archdiocese of Toronto. He died Monday, March 13, 2017 at the age of 101 after spending almost 78 years as a preist.
Hearing his life story, it is clear that a long priesthood was part of God's plan. "I was near death on several occasions," Monsignor Foy admits.
In the 1940s, he contracted a case of tuberculosis that left him out of commission for over two years. He once came close to dying of pneumonia but was saved by medication administered every four hours for a week. When on vacation as a young priest, he was involved in a serious car accident but narrowly avoided hitting a tree. And he can't help but wonder what would have happened if someone hadn't have saved him and his cousin from a runaway raft while they were playing in Lake Simcoe as young boys.
Msgr. Foy as a young priest. Photo from Archives of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Toronto.
Against all odds, he lived a long and inspiring life of service to the Church. Over the course of 78 years, he was a humble witness of faith. Having faced death a number of times, he appropriately became an advocate of life, spending his priesthood championing the pro-life cause. Monsignor Foy experienced a variety of priestly duties. A learned man with a doctorate in canon law, he spent time working in the Archdiocese of Toronto's marriage tribunal, served as Vice Chancellor, ministered to orphans and pastored several parishes.
While he was working at the Marriage Tribunal, an archbishop from Rome visited Toronto and asked for a tour of the tribunal. Years later, Archbishop Montini became Pope Paul VI. "I always said that if I had known he was going to be the pope, I would have offered him a cup of coffee!" Monsignor Foy joked.
In his free time, he learned card tricks and wrote books about magic. This hobby served as a bridge with young people he encountered in his ministry. "I remember one time at Yonge and Bloor in Toronto, there was a man who was begging for money for something to eat. I bought him a hot dog and gave him a dollar. And he said 'you look very much like a priest I knew when I was in Holy Name School. He used to do magic tricks for us!' He remembered the magic."
Through this pastoral nature, Monsignor Foy left a legacy everywhere he went. And in the midst of perfecting card tricks, meeting future popes, serving the pro-life movement and overseeing a number of roles for the chancery, his gaze always remained focused on Jesus first. His favourite part of being a priest was simple and profound: "Saying Mass is my greatest joy."
Msgr. Foy (second from left) concelebrating Mass at Cardinal Ambrozic Houses of Providence in 2016.
Monsignor Foy lived his final retirement years at the Cardinal Ambrozic Houses of Providence alongside other priests who faithfully served the Archdiocese of Toronto. In his retirement, he continued to live his number one joy: daily, he concelebrated Mass for the residents.
What began as the prayer of a child became an inspiring legacy of loving service.
May the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.