Msgr. Vincent Foy in his 99th year is celebrating 75 years as a priest. Photo By Ruane Remy.

Msgr. Foy was pro-life before there was pro-life

  • May 29, 2014

TORONTO - Vincent Foy paced back and forth, tears rolling down his 10-year-old cheeks, and promised God that if the Lord would spare the life of his mother, he would do everything in his power to become a priest.

At that time, his mother Josephine was at St. Michael’s Hospital in labour with her fifth child and severely ill with “double pneumonia.” The prognosis was bleak and the doctor told Foy’s father, Edward, to tell the children that they should be brave because God was calling their mother.

If the Lord really was calling, then He must have hung up because she took a turn for the better, gave birth to three more children and lived until age 84. Foy, now age 98, never told his mother his promise to God that fateful day, but in 2014 he will celebrate his 75th anniversary as a diocesan priest.

Msgr. Foy’s 75 years of service in the Archdiocese of Toronto will be marked June 7 at 10 a.m. at St. Lawrence the Martyr Church, with Mass celebrated in the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite.

Joseph DeCaria is pontifical master of ceremonies for the anniversary Mass. He is expecting a large turnout of people, including a film crew that is making a documentary on Foy’s life.

“Any 75th anniversary these days is getting to be exceedingly rare and it’s an example of stability in these times of chaos,” he said.

But Foy has seen his fair share of chaotic times. He was born in Toronto on Aug. 15, 1915. Straight out of high school, he joined the seminary at age 18 in 1933.

“In those days the seminary was filled. There were 200 of us at St. Augustine’s Seminary,” Foy recalls.

He was ordained on June 3, 1939, and spent that summer working in St. Catharines, Ont., which was then part of the Archdiocese of Toronto, before a surprise visit from the archbishop.

“The archbishop came over in the summer. He says pack your bags, you’re going to Rome at the end of August with me and you are going to get your degree in canon law, your doctorate. You’ll be there for three years.”

Foy was all packed and ready to go, and then the Second World War broke out.

The plan was then to send Foy to Washington to study at the Catholic University of America, but he would end up studying canon law at Laval University in Quebec for three years. He was the only English-speaking student in the faculty and all the courses were given in Latin.

He came back to Toronto and was appointed Vice-Chancellor of the archdiocese and Secretary of the Toronto Archdiocesan Matrimonial Tribunal.

But he would soon catch tuberculosis, confining him to sanitoriums in Hamilton, Ont., and New York State for two years.

He returned as Vice-Chancellor and went on to serve 25 years on matrimonial tribunals, first as secretary of the new Toronto Regional Tribunal, Defender of the Bond and Judge and Presiding Judge of the Regional and Archdiocesan Tribunals.

Foy was parish priest from 1966 until 1973 at St. John’s, the church where he was baptized. And he become a notable pro-life advocate in Canada. Pope Pius XII named him a monsignor when Foy was 42 years old.

Reflecting on three-quarters of a century in the priesthood, Foy says the biggest problem for the Church in Canada is the contraceptive mentality: “We have a suicidal birth rate.” Though the Church is flourishing in places like Africa, it is dying in Canada because Catholics are no longer reproducing in sufficient numbers.

“Priests usually came from large families. I was one of eight,” he said. But now “the seminary is nearly empty.”

“Starting back in the 1960s and earlier than that, there wasn’t legalized abortion and there wasn’t a widespread use of contraception,” said DeCaria. “Monsignor saw the danger of these things and their harmful effects on society before anyone thought of the word pro- life.” As a result, “people characterize him sometimes only in terms of his pro-life work, but there’s a lot more in 75 years of priestly life and ministry than his pro-life work.”

DeCaria referred to Foy’s skill as a magician as part of his ministry.

“It allowed him to relate to people on a human level, and he’s very good at that.”

Foy is an accomplished magician, known especially for his sleight of hand with cards. He is the author of A Cut Above about one hand cuts and card manipulation, many of which he invented himself. Under the pseudonym, Dr. George E. Casaubon, Foy also wrote Deceptions of a Short Card and Card Sorcery With Salt.

Magic had been his hobby since age 10 after he saw Blackstone, the great magician, at the Pantages in Toronto.

“I love doing magic for children. One time at Yonge and Bloor, a drunk came up to me. He was about 40 years of age. You could see he had once been a fine looking man. He asked for some help and I took him to a hot dog stand and I gave him a loonie and he said, you remind me of a priest I knew when I was at St. John’s School and he did magic for us,” said Foy.

He asked the man the name of the priest, to which he replied Msgr. Foy. Foy jokes that the man remembered the magic but didn’t remember the religion.

But magic is a small part of his life, Foy said. Turning 99 this summer, he’s surprised he’s livedlongest out of the 34 seminarians in his graduation class.

He greatly values the Mass and wants new priests coming out of the seminary to lead a strong prayer life to strengthen their faith for the challenges ahead. Foy asks for people’s prayers and says about his almost 100 years, “It’s been a marvelous life.”

For more information on Foy, visit

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