Hundreds gathered Tuesday evening in the Church of the Gesu for a prayer vigil to honor the life of James Foley, a journalist and Marquette alumnus killed by the Islamic State.
But as Foley’s friends and former classmates gathered to mourn his loss with tearful embraces and kind words, violence and anger were forgotten in favor of memories and laughter.
“I thank everyone gathered here to remember the courageous and passionate life of James Foley,” said University President Michael Lovell as he gave the welcome to the prayer vigil. “His life embodied social justice, and we are extremely proud of how he represented the Marquette community.”
After prayers and a gospel reading, the Rev. Frederick Zagone gave a homily speaking about Foley’s email to him in 2011 that expressed his gratitude and the strength he gained from prayer during his first captivity.
Once the readings and psalms were finished, there was a time to reflect and share, beginning with remarks from Lori Bergen, dean of the College of Communication.
“Driven by passion to tell untold stories, conflict journalists give a human face to war,” Bergen said. “Jim was a courageous journalist, passionately committed to telling the truth about the story of history.”
Bergen stated that 1,072 journalists lost their lives because of the conflicts and truths they tried to share, and thanked Foley for his writings that told stories that make a difference.
After Bergen stepped down, Tom Durkin, a 1996 Marquette alumnus, gave testament to his friend. As he unfolded his papers and clung to his composure, it was clear that Durkin was grieving. Grieving for a man perhaps few people at Gesu had met or truly known.
“Jim, it’s me, Durkin,” began a letter of sorrow and hope written with the help of Foley’s friends and family as they said goodbye. “Jimmy, I’m looking out on Gesu and I’ve never seen so many people. So many people are here.”
The crowd chuckled at jokes about spelling Foley name right on the back of rugby jerseys, and stories about driving a car through campus and hitting a light post. The crowd shed tears with Durkin as he shared what he had lost.
“There are so many people thinking about you,” Durkin said. “I know you don’t like when the story’s about you, but I think it’s OK this time. I know it’s for the right reasons.”
The story Durkin told was not of a journalist who wrote about dangerous and faraway places, but of a friend, classmate, mentor, son and brother. The story was of Jim, a man who never hesitated to help a friend, who was a light in the darkness and who never stopped believing in good.
“So many more people are here in Gesu because of you,” Durkin said. “Because of your heart. Because you were brave when we couldn’t be. Because you made each one of us feel like the most important person in the world when we were with you. Jimmy man, I miss you. I want one more hug, one more phone call, one more trip, one more adventure. I just want to hear you say, ‘Come on, Tommy!’”
The vigil concluded with a reading of Foley’s 2011 letter to the Marquette Journal and a powerful candle lighting ceremony for peace and healing, but what was perhaps the most powerful was the moving conclusion to Durkin’s earlier letter of heartbreak and remembrance.
“Jimmy, right now I want you to get some rest. I know how strong you were for so long,” Durkin said. “You were so good, so very good. You are like a light in the darkness. You make my heart swell with pride. I’m so happy that you sat down next to me at Angelo’s pub during the first week of our freshman year. I’m so happy that you started that conversation. Please Jimmy, just promise me you’ll wait for us in heaven. Promise me that. We all want to see you again someday. I love you, Jimmy. We all do.”