Almost Ordained. By Monsignor Vincent Foy

Almost Ordained

Originally published in Emeritus, Volume 1, Issue 4

By Monsignor Vincent Foy

The summer of 1939 was an exciting one for me, full of hope and joy and new experiences in the priesthood.

Ordained on June 3rd 1939 at the age of 23, with no parish experience as is the fortunate case to-day, every day had its new challenges and surprises. Always in the back of my mind was the promise of Archbishop McGuigan that he would take me to Rome in September, where I was to live at the Canadian College and study Canon Law.

The question of where I was to go for the summer was settled by a ‘phone call’. In those days the newly-ordained priests learned of their appointments not by a formal letter, though that would come later, but by a notice in the morning paper. In mid-June Fr. Fred McGinn (died 1964, aged 60), then curate at Holy Name Parish, phoned me to give me the good news. “Congratulations” he said, “You are going to St. Catherine’s, to be a curate under Dean Cullinane at St. Catherine’s Church. I was a curate at St. Mary’s in St. Catherine’s and can tell you that is a great place to start.”

Soon after I arrived at 3 Lyman St., St. Catherine’s, also known as the Deanery.  The door was opened by Fr. Austin Sweeney ( R.I.P.), now No.1 curate, who graciously received me and showed me to my quarters. It was the room of Father Stan Cassin (died 1947, aged 47) whose belongings were still there. He had developed a stomach ulcer and was on leave for the summer. He was much loved and respected especially for  his work among young people.

So began a quite wonderful three months under Dean Cullinane ( died as Msgr. Cullinane, 1953, aged 68 ). I could literally write a book about that summer. Dean Michael Cullinane, whose brother was the Dean of Tweed, initiated me into the mysteries of pastoral care. He was kindly, good-humored, not above giving a visiting priest an exploding cigar, and a bit of an indirect disciplinarian. Once I had been with Mr. Coyle, a parishonor, to Niagara Falls and got back at 11.05 P.M.. The rectory door was locked and barred. Curates were supposed to be in at 11.00 P.M.. A few coins thrown up against the window of Fr. Sweeny got me re-admitted. I did not let that happen again.

In late July we had a visit from Archbishop McGuigan and his buoyant secretary, Msgr. John Virgil Harris (died 1950, aged 50). The Archbishop reminded me to have my trunk packed and be ready for Rome in September.

In August international affairs took a turn for the worse. Hitler demanded the return of Danzig. Germany signed a non-aggression pact with Russia. England was rapidly re-arming. In St. Catherine’s I noticed that tents were being put up outside the armouries and there was an influx of young soldiers.

Then came the fateful first of September. Hitler’s army invaded Poland. On September 3rd, a Sunday, I was walking down Church St.  in the evening when I heard the cry of a paper-boy:  “ Extra! Extra! England declares war! Athenia sunk!” Only a few hours after England went to war the Athenia, an ocean liner on route from Scotland to Montreal, was sunk by a German submarine.  Many passengers drowned.  Of course my own dream of going to Rome went up in the smoke of battle and I wondered about the future.

The following Saturday a telegram from the Archbishop was delivered at the Deanery. Dean Cullinane was told that I was to report to the Chancery Office on Tuesday, packed and ready to go to the Catholic University of America at Washington. The telegram arrived late at night and I was told about it the next morning. That Sunday I was preaching. The Dean asked me to sit down after the homily and to look surprised when he read the telegram to the congregation. I was to look surprised three times that morning. In the afternoon the Dean told the Sunday-school children that I had volunteered to go to Rome by submarine, but the Archbishop thought it too dangerous.

Tuesday morning I presented myself to the Archbishop at 200 Church St.. I had purchased a new rain-coat because I had been told that there was much rain in Washington. Archbishop McGuigan greeted me warmly and handed me two letters, one a  letter from Msgr. Brennan, the Seminary rector ( died 1978, aged 87 ), detailing my seminary record and the other a letter of introduction to Dr. Motry, Dean of the Faculty of Canon Law. I was directed to see Fr Callaghan, the Chancellor,( died 1960, aged 64 ), who would get the information about my accommodations.

While I was in his office Fr. Callaghan ‘phoned Dr. Motry. Dr. Motry said yes, he was expecting Fr. Foy and that lectures had already started. When asked about accommodations he said: “ I have nothing to do with that. That is in the hands of Dr. Armand at the Priests’ Residence.” Next came a call to Dr. Armand. I could see a look of surprise on Fr. Callaghan’s face. Dr. Armand informed him that because of the war their house was packed, with not a room left. I suggested that perhaps I could stay at one of the Religious Houses. The reply was ( I never understood why ), “If you can’t stay with the other diocesan priests, you are not going.”

I returned to the Archbishop’s Office and told him the news. He commiserated with me, but then his face lit up. “Ah! Now I remember! Only last week I received a letter from Fr. Aderville Bureau ( died 1949 in the crash of the Canadian Pilgrim plane over the Alps ). He is the dean of the new Canon Law Faculty at Laval started because of the war. They are anxious for more student priests.” A phone call settled everything. That night I was on the train to Quebec. It was like going to another world. Previously I had never traveled further than Buffalo.

Here I would like to add that another class-mate was sent away for post-graduate studies:  Fr. Matt Darby (died 1970, aged 56 ). He knew early in September that he was going to Laval to study theology, and envied me when I phoned to tell him I was going to Washington. He did not relish taking courses in Latin. In the seminary his highest marks were in Canon Law and mine were in Dogmatic Theology. Did the Archbishop get our marks confused? We never knew.

Fr. Darby arrived in Quebec City the day after I did, on a Thursday. I was already in my quarters at the

“Maison des Etudiants”  on Rue St. Joachim, an old and dilapidated residence for student priests, where rats roamed at liberty.The “Maison” was about a 20 minutes walk from the university. I had already reported to the Chancery Office as required, to obtain the “ Faculties” of the Archdiocese, and was given a copy of the Archdiocesan regulations.  I was down at the railway station to greet Fr. Matt as he stepped off the train. “Bienvenue a Quebec”, I said, and I could see that he was not altogether happy about his new life. “Do I have to wear that ?” he asked, as he looked at my soutane. “Yes” I said, “and there are a few more rules I will tell you about. The good news is that because we are from outside of the province, we don’t have to wear the tonsure.” The tonsure was a round bald spot on the top of the head which then cost Quebec priests ten cents when they got their hair cut. So began our great adventure in dear old Quebec.

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