By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published January 23, 2020
ATLANTA–Called a “religious brother, a devoted priest, a revered son, a blood brother and uncle, a friend and adventurer and a faithful soul,” Father Walter Wilford Foley was laid to rest Friday, Jan. 17.
Father Foley served as a priest in the Archdiocese of Atlanta for more than 43 years. He died Saturday, Jan. 11. He was 91 years old. Bishop Joel M. Konzen, SM, celebrated the funeral Mass at the Cathedral of Christ the King.
In his homily, Bishop Konzen said the New Jersey native was “blessed to lead an incredibly varied and interesting life of service to the church.”
Also in attendance were Bishop Bernard E. Shlesinger III and two dozen priests and deacons.
Father Foley as a teenager joined the Congregation of the Holy Cross, serving from 1948 to 1975 as a brother. He worked in Uganda, East Africa, where he was in charge of a teacher training college. He also taught high school in Indiana and New York.
Bishop Konzen said Father Foley “lived a half-life of service” before he took up the ministry as a priest where he served at eight parishes around the Atlanta Archdiocese. He followed his vocation to the priesthood at the age of 40.
Born in Princeton, New Jersey in December 1928, Father Foley earned a bachelor’s degree in education at St. Edward’s University, Austin, Texas, before graduating from St. Meinrad School of Theology in St. Meinrad, Indiana. He entered religious life as a teenager, becoming brother at 19.
Father Foley was ordained to the priesthood on Oct. 23, 1976 by Archbishop Thomas A. Donnellan.
His Atlanta ministry began as a parochial vicar in parishes in Marietta, Decatur and Lilburn.
He served his first pastorate from 1984-88 at St. Joseph Church in Dalton and also as dean of the northwest rural deanery. He went on to serve as pastor at St. John Neumann Church, Lilburn, and St. Anthony Church, Blue Ridge. His final assignment was at Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in Hartwell from 1995 until retirement in 1998.
On the occasion of his 25th anniversary as a priest in 2001, Father Foley spoke with The Georgia Bulletin about the meaning of the Eucharist to him.
“Everything is centered around the Eucharist, my personal life, preaching life, community life,” he said. “To me the Mass is pretty much everything. Everything revolves around it—not the preaching—the Mass.”
As a priest, Father Foley always enjoyed teaching both children and adults, particularly when adults would read Scripture and tie it into today’s world.
The priest was an exceptional preacher, said Bishop Konzen, “delivering well-honed and finished sermons, motivated to move his listeners, to exhort them to a higher level of faith and personal holiness.”
A student of history and an avid reader, Father Foley also played golf. He wrote about several faith topics including the meaning of the words used in Mass so that the laity would better understand the celebration. He authored a book for young people about Mass titled “Ultimate Nearness.”
It was not known to many that the priest was also a motorcycle enthusiast who loved to be out on the open road. Bishop Konzen said Father Foley’s summer vacations were spent biking around the country. One trip took the priest to Los Vegas where he “met some good fortune” and returned with a new Harley Davidson motorcycle, Bishop Konzen said.
“Today we remember him and thank him for the example he gave, for the service he tendered and for his unstinting witness to the love and hope he knew in Jesus Christ,” said the bishop.
In his retirement, Father Foley serve as a supply priest to parishes when a priest had to be away.
At the time of his death, he was residing at St. George Village, Roswell. He is survived by his sisters, Kathleen Schwartz of West Windsor, New Jersey; and Nancy Markuson of Laurel, Florida; several nieces and nephews and their families. He was preceded in death by his parents, Walter and Bertha Foley; and sisters Mary Alice Shurtz and Patricia Foley Smith.
Donations in Father Foley’s memory may be made to: Priest Assistance Fund for Senior Priests Care, 2401 Lake Park Drive, SE, Smyrna, GA 30080.