1931 – 2018
Word of Remembrance for Brother Brendan Foley, FSC
Delivered by Brother Jerome Cox, FSC
As we heard in the first reading we will be provided with “juicy rich food and pure choice wines” in the heavenly Jerusalem. For Billy Foley, Brother Brendan of Mary, quite a change in diet from the thin tea, cranberry juice and sherbet of his final week on earth. He’s not sitting at a table for one as he’s found already in place Brother Stephen Creagh and Christian Brothers affiliate Jack Connell. A trio of Lasallians bound together in life serving in our East African missions. Now together in death as they will soon lie side by side in our Narragansett cemetery, each having having passed within the last six months.
I first met Brendan when he still had red in his hair. It was the autumn of 1959 at Bishop Bradley High School in Manchester, New Hampshire.
My first assignment, his second as he had been transferred from St. Patrick’s, Newburgh, New York. He taught his chemistry to the upper classes and was both Athletic Director and moderator of the football and basketball teams. He also coached freshmen basketball which brought him some grief. I suspect old timers in Rochester, NH still remember Brendan, dressed in his blacks running out onto the court to protest a call in a tight match late in the fourth quarter. He was given a technical foul and banished from the bench but was it he or the kids who got the last laugh as they finished victorious? His second expulsion came from an in house infraction. Brendan was the last out of the school gym each day locking up as the boys drifted home.
Most of the time he made it to community for evening pray and supper. One evening he was delayed and quietly tried to slip into his chair at the table when the director boomed,” go to chapel”.
The younger members of the community fumbled for their napkins.
Being a native New Yorker I’ve been delighted knowing that Brendan was born in New York City, living in Astoria for his first nine years before the family moved to Newport settling on Levan Street. He had only to cross the road to attend St. Mary Elementary School and after graduation the walk became longer finishing at De La Salle Academy. It was there he met the Brothers, joining them in 1949. In formation he had plenty of time to read the rule of the Brothers and found its core on page one, article three. “ The purpose of this Institute is to provide a human and Christian education to the young, especially the poor.” In this Brendan found inspiration for life and an exit strategy from Manchester.
He volunteered for our recently begun mission in East Africa and when he left New York harbor in November 1961 on the Christoforo Colombo he was a member of the third group sent to Kenya. He changed ships in Genoa, passed through the Suez Canal and arrived at the port of Mombasa. He then went overland for four hundred miles reaching Kamwenja Teacher Training College celebrating Christmas with the Brothers. Thus began a fifty three year saga, a romance with the continent and its peoples. There are very few Kenyans who can match Brendan’s claim. He was present in Nairobi December 12th, 1963 when the Union Jack was lowered and the Kenyan flag raised and there he was in Nakuru in 2013 celebrating the golden jubilee of independence.
Sister Patricia, a Maryknoller who taught with Brendan saw him as one always ready to serve where needed and never seeking positions for himself. For her, Brendan’s integrity and humility are qualities that jump out. He co-founded a high school named Christian Brothers Academy, was headmaster of a School for children of pastoralists in the semi arid northern frontier, became our first director of postulants planting a seed that developed into our Lwanga District. Called to Tangaza College Brendan became dean of students at its school of education. And at Rongai Agricultural and Technical School he had the students growing vegetables and rearing animals in a spirit of self reliance. No matter where he was stationed he was eager to complete the office work, much preferring chalk in hand and blackboard nearby and then after classes a whistle in his mouth standing at half court putting the team through their practice.
Some superiors have a sense of humor and it was hilarious when Brendan was asked to lead Mwangaza Skills Training College. For starters there wasn’t a basketball court on the compound but the big surprise came when Brendan learned that 80% of the students were women. Instead of a curriculum including math and science he found himself hiring teachers for such courses as Ladies Tailoring, Food and Beverage and Cosmetology. On graduation many girls opened their own shops proudly saying I’m from Mwangaza College and Brother Brendan was my principal.
The Maryknoll Society began a minor seminary for two dioceses in northern Tanzania. We Brothers were asked to supply teachers and Brendan, along with the late Brother Tom Jenkins were chosen. Twenty years on Brendan was still there with the title Rector. It was during that score of years and by dint of self study that Brendan became fluent in Kiswahili. He tolerated no English in his conversations.
Brendan’s heart was broken in that twentieth year at the seminary, it was mended and then broken again some years later. Twice he was untimely, unfairly treated. I only allude to these occasions because they bring out his true mettle. Brendan showed no bitterness, no rancor. He accepted it and moved on with great forbearance.
I lived with Brendan in my first community and also in his last and four others in between. I enjoyed being re-gifted. He didn’t wake up each morning with a song in his heart, after all he couldn’t sing, but always woke up with a heart of compassion. He found the fruits of the Holy Spirit hanging low and picked them readily. A man firm but fair with few personal needs but exceedingly bountiful.
Brendan left Kenya in November of 2014, reluctantly but necessarily.
Health issue became a concern and for the past four years he lived in this community. In the beginning he was able to walk Ocean Road and continue to the golf course club house. Maybe even twice a day. He made friends with the Ocean Tides youth eager to know their names and where their home were. He’d linger in the kitchen chatting with waiters and dishwashers. Over time he lessened his involvement and sort the quiet of his room. But he always was ready for Chris Matthews of MSNBC, the Patriots and Notre Dame football. He was a fixture in the second row in chapel. And for reading there was a table side Agano Jipya, the New Testament in Kiswahili.
In less than twenty four hours of Brendan’s dying many testimonials arrived. I offer three:
Our Superior General Brother Robert Schiller wrote that Brendan was a great man with the soul of an African.
A former student from the north of Kenya said that Brendan improved lives in the forgotten corners of the world and inspired generations. You unreservedly and with unimaginable commitment showed love and compassion, gave hope and future to people who would have otherwise been hopeless. You are one person I’ll always remember and love even though sometimes I’m baffled by your personality. You are the most decent human being in the world.
And lastly from Brother Victor Malowa one of our Kenyan Brothers:
To all who met Brother Brendan he was known to have a noble character and was a model worth emulating. His commitment and dedication as well as life of service was evident every day. A man of great faith and integrity.
Our Institute and the world have been blessed because Brendan walked among gets us.
Live Jesus in our hearts.
Please pray for the repose of the soul of Brother Brendan Foley, FSC
Born William James Foley, Jr. in Jamaica NY on 24 November 1931
Entered the Barrytown NY Novitiate on 24 June 1949
Received the Religious Habit and Name Brother Brendan of Mary on 7 September 1949
Pronounced Perpetual Vows at Barrytown NY on 1 September 1956
Died at Christian Brothers Center in Narragansett RI on 18 December 2018
Friday, 21 December 2018
Viewing – 2.30 pm to 5.30 pm
Christian Brothers Center – Blue Room
635 Ocean Road · Narragansett RI 02882
Saturday, 22 December 2018
Mass of Christian Burial – 10.30 am
Christian Brothers Center – Our Lady of the Star Chapel
Christian Brothers Center Cemetery
Brother Brendan passed peacefully in his sleep early Tuesday morning with members of his community at his bedside.
The District of Eastern North America remembers Brother Brendan with memorial liturgies according to the tradition of the Institute. Through their prayers, communities, and individuals entrust Brother Brendan to God’s loving care.
May he rest in peace.
Saint Patrick’s School
Bishop Bradley High School
Mater Christi High School (studies)
Saint Pius Seminary
Rongai Agriculture & Technology
Director of Postulants
Rongai Agriculture & Technology
Saint Paul’s Secondary School
Rongai Agriculture & Technology
Christ the Teacher Institute for Education
Rongai Secondary School
Christian Brothers Center (retired)