ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. — For one Chicago-area pastor and former Army Chaplain, resilience and incredible life experiences have helped him navigate a tightly-knit community through an incredibly challenging time.
Matt Foley, Pastor of St. James Parish in Arlington Heights, reflected on times where he fell short in life despite giving a great effort. The reflection combined the spiritual with the slapstick comedy on a recent Sunday.
“As I turned and processed out, unfortunately, my chasuble caught one of the hand sanitizers in the middle aisle. I heard it fall over, and I thought to myself, ‘I have to catch it before it hits the ground,'” Foley said.
Foley went on to describe what was, in his mind, a heroic effort to save the sanitzer before it shattered and spilled.
“In my mind, I gave my whole body and my soul, and I stretched out like Kole Kmet catching a touchdown pass for the Bears, I was just like that. Made for TV,” Foley said.
Foley added however that his leaping attempt fell short, just missing the sanitizer.
Due to public health guidelines limiting the capacity of churches, mass is recorded. Therefore, in-person witnesses were not the only ones to see Foley’s attempt at a diving grab.
With a name like Matt Foley however, crashing down on surfaces isn’t exactly a new phenomenon.
“I am that guy,” Foley said, referencing the popular Saturday Night Live character portrayed by the late Chris Farley.
The beloved SNL character was inspired by Father Matt Foley, who was one of Farley’s best friends while both attended Marquette University.
“We played rugby together. He was a good rugby player. He hustled his tail off. He was a big guy and very agile,” Foley said of Farley.
Foley was the student-leader of the Rugby club, and it was his pre-game speeches that inspired Farley’s later material on SNL.
“Chris developed that Matt Foley character at Second City, so I was there the first night he used my name – and I knew he was going to try to bring it to Saturday Night Live – so I was very very honored, and blushing all the time whenever he did the skit,” Foley said.
The friendship gave Foley a lasting to use humor in difficult times.
“I’ve learned to be humble. To fail. To get up and try again. I’ve learned how graceful and wonderful the world is, and how blessed I am to be in the service of God,” Foley said.
Foley was a sophomore at Marquette, who frequently attended parties and was dating a woman, before hearing the call to serve.
“In the midst of a very wonderful relationship with my girlfriend, I felt Christ was calling me to go deeper,” Foley said.
Foley’s first five years in the priesthood were spent in Chicago’s North Lawndale neighborhood at St. Agatha before moving to Mexico, where he was a pastor in a mission parish, covering 26 villages and 240 square miles.
Following his time in Mexico, Foley returned to the West Side, spending 8 years at St. Agnes in Chicago’s Little Village neighborhood.
In the final year of the George W. Bush administration, Foley had just turned 45 years old and decided to take another ‘leap’ of faith, amid the United States’ involvement in two wars.
“It was 2008, and I was learning how to jump out of planes. If we’re sending as a country these young people and I’m not willing to go? I felt obligated,” Foley said.
Foley ultimately joined the U.S. Army and rose to the rank of Captain. Foley also served as a chaplain on four tours of duty.
Foley said that besides the apparent contradiction of war and peace, he felt that being a priest and a soldier went hand-in-hand.
“There’s no greater love than to lay down your life for your friend – that goes in faith and that goes in combat,” Foley said.
Foley said he saw sorrow and depression in his role with the 82nd Airborne, using his faith as a spiritual guidance providing compassion and companionship.
“If they’re going out on patrols, you’re with them, if you’re in the midst of incoming, you’re with them. You share the same fears, same sorrows, same joys and humor,” Foley said.
Through his time in the military and in the new difficult times of today, Foley said humor always helps people get through. A lesson he said he learned from his old friend Chris.
“He would do anything to make you laugh, but then there was a real serious side of him,” Foley said of Farley.
Foley added that he’s not afraid of coming up short, even when giving the greatest effort possible. He just doesn’t believe that should stop people from moving forward.
“You never stop serving. You always have service to do, just because you serve the nation, doesn’t mean you stop serving the rest of the people so it’s a great, great honor to be a veteran,” Foley said.