By Phoebe McPherson, Managing Editor
ROCHESTER — More than 1,000 people, including close friends and family, gathered Saturday to celebrate slain journalist James “Jim” Foley’s 41st birthday and put his soul to rest in a memorial Mass at Our Lady of the Holy Rosary Church.
The Mass was “concelebrated” by the Rev. Paul Gousse and Rev. Marc Montminy. Montminy — who knew Foley closely as a child — delivered the homily.
“Today would have been Jimmy’s 41st birthday,” Montminy told the congregation. “In these 41 years, Jim played a pivotal role in the lives of so many.”
Montminy was also the celebrant at a previous Mass for Foley at St. Katharine Drexel Catholic Church in Wolfeboro on Sept. 7.
Foley’s sister, Katie, read scripture from the Book of Wisdom, and Foley’s friend, Ebele Okpokwasili, continued the service by reading scripture and singing hymns.
His cousins Meghan Doyle, Peter Jackson, Ryan Jackson and Maria Colina all took part in the Prayers of the Faithful.
Prayers were sent out to James Foley in heaven and the already deceased relatives that he joined; for world peace; the people of Syria and displaced families in the Middle East.
During the homily, Montminy spoke at length about James Foley’s love for life and all things in it.
“Having a passion for life … Jim wasn’t satisfied with writing fiction, but he wanted to see the world first-hand.”
He first became a freelance journalist in 2010, Montminy explained.
“It was people’s stories, of mechanics, oil workers, mothers and fathers, people living extremist that drew him to Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and ultimately Syria,” Montminy said.
In Jan. 2011, he started his trips to and from Syria, where he was captured the following year.
“We as a community believe in one who was greater than death,” Montminy said. “He was confident and trustful in what the Lord would do. He walked a dark journey at times … but when he stood before those who would take his life, he stood in hope, he stood in strength, with dignity.”
Foley’s brother, Michael, gave a eulogy mixed with humor and memories of James.
“He was the scribe in the family. Always writing, always reading, always napping.”
The congregation laughed.
Michael told a story from a few years ago when “all four boys were together in Charlestown, Massachusetts,” and they went to a local YMCA to play basketball. After two lost games, the group decided to leave it all on the court and play one last game.
“There was a strong sense that this was our last game together,” he continued. “Jim was in his zone: doing everything well but nothing great. Ever the motivator like ‘Come on dude, come on dude.’
“I was sure his teachings ended long ago, but I was wrong,” Michael Foley reflected. He said James Foley was forever being a teacher. “He is still teaching today.”
He reminisced and remembered a time when James came to stay with him and his family; the time when he became close to his two boys, Matthew and Michael. He also has a daughter, Foley’s niece, Rori. The three took part in the presentation of Bread and Wine to be transformed into the body and blood of Christ.
“You’ve really helped to keep the family together … but we have to keep it together, we have to keep each other together by the times we spend together,” James Foley said to his brother in a letter back in 2000.
“I’ll never make complete sense of why Jim died, but I don’t think it’s for me to understand. But he did not die in vain. He simply reminded us that good does triumph over evil,” Michael said. “His final lesson came in an act of martyr.”
Foley’s aunt and uncle, Rita and Fernando Colina, also shared a few words.
“I will treasure the time when I heard his voice,” Rita said.
“Don’t worry, we’ll take good care of your mom and dad and grammy.”
A memorial to James Foley with dozens of photos was set up outside the reception room, pieces of memorabilia sat in between the galleries. Items included a beer bottle, a poster, a box of pens, novels and part of a book he had been working on. Letters and photos hung above.
Gousse spoke of the last time he was at home — right before James Foley’s return to Syria.
“I asked him ‘Why are you going back?’ and he said, ‘Father, I have to go back. They need to know the truth,’” Gousse explained.
Marcy Dow, a family friend, attended the Mass and remembered when her son Adam and Foley had graduated high school together.
“The whole thing of Jimmy and the state of the world …” she said, wiping away the tears from behind her glasses.
“In New Hampshire, you’re sheltered from a lot of those things.”
As a mother, “it just really hits home,” she said.
On the back of the program was a scripture from Micah 6:8 that Montminy said perfectly described Foley: Act justly, love tenderly, walk humbly with your God.
Foley’s parents, Diane and John Foley hand-picked the scriptures, readings and songs for the memorial Mass.
“Once he was there [in Syria], they believed in what he did,” Montminy said. “How can you tell a reporter not to report?”
A reception lunch took place at St. Anne’s Parish Hall where the family greeted guests and their condolences.
Afterwards, formal public tributes to Jim Foley were made. Guests were welcomed to sign a book with memories of Foley and could also read a copy of a final letter from Jim to his family.
A brief introduction to the letter explained its method of delivery.
“All letters Jim wrote to us during his captivity were confiscated by the captors. So, Jim devised a better approach this last June: He asked a fellow hostage about to be released to commit a letter to memory. Immediately after his release, this hostage called Diane and dictated what follows.”
In the letter, James thanked his family for praying for him and described day-to-day life. He reminded his grandmother, Grammy, to continue dancing and to take her medication.
He spoke of going out to a popular restaurant, Margaritas, when he returned home.
“So Jim is home now … he’s in heaven watching over us,” Michael Foley said.
James Foley went missing and was taken hostage on Nov. 22, 2012. His execution by the Islamic State happened this past August, after nearly two years spent as a hostage.
Gov. Maggie Hassan and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen attended the memorial Mass, paying their respects to the family.
After his death, his family created the James W. Foley Legacy Fund, which officially launched on Sept. 12.
According to the website jamesfoleyfund.org, the purpose of the fund is to “push for the discussion, development and coordination of policies that are consistent, transparent, and accountable to all American citizens held captive world-wide.”
“He gave voice to people where there is no free speech, no free press,” Montminy said of Foley’s life. “He taught us not only how to live, but how to die a hero.”