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John Samuel Foley (November 5, 1833—January 5, 1918) was an American prelate of the Roman Catholic Church. He served as Bishop of Detroit from 1888 until his death in 1918.


John Foley was born in Baltimore, Maryland, to Matthew and Elizabeth (née Murphy) Foley, who were both natives of Enniscorthy, County Wexford, Ireland.[1] His older brother was Bishop Thomas Foley, who served as Coadjutor Bishop of Chicago (1870-1879).[2] After attending local parochial schools in Baltimore, he completed his studies in the classics and philosophy at St. Mary's College in 1850.[1] He then studied theology at St. Mary's Seminary until 1853, when he was sent by Archbishop Francis Kenrick to further his studies in Rome at the Pontifical Athenaeum S. Apollinare, from where he obtained his Licentiate of Sacred Theology in 1857.[3]

While in Rome, Foley was ordained to the priesthood by Cardinal Costantino Patrizi on December 20, 1856, at the Lateran Basilica.[4] Upon his return to Maryland in November 1857, he served as pastor of St. Brigid's Church in Baltimore.[1] He was transferred to St. Paul's Church at Ellicott City in 1858, and then to St. Peter's Church in Baltimore as a curate in 1864.[1] In 1865 he founded and became first pastor of St. Martin's Church.[1] Foley also served as principal of the House of the Good Shepherd, and assisted Archbishop Martin John Spalding in establishing new missions and schools and developing charitable institutions. A childhood friend of Cardinal James Gibbons, he was secretary of the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore in 1884 and co-authored the Baltimore Catechism.[3] He was nominated as Bishop of Wilmington, Delaware, in 1886 but his name was rejected by the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith.[3]

On February 11, 1888, Foley was appointed the third Bishop of Detroit, Michigan, by Pope Leo XIII.[4] He received his episcopal consecration on the following November 4 from Cardinal Gibbons, with Bishops John Loughlin and Edgar Wadhams serving as co-consecrators, at Baltimore.[4] He was Detroit's first American-born bishop, with his two predecessors both hailing from Germany.[5] During his tenure, he established a seminary for Polish Americans, and later healed a long and damaging schism among them.[2] In 1907 the priests and laity of the diocese, in honor of the golden jubilee of his priestly ordination, presented Foley with St. Francis's Home for Orphan Boys, built at a cost of $250,000.[2] He established the first parish for African Americans, St. Peter Claver's Church, in 1911, although chapels and missions for African American Catholics had existed since the late 1870s.[5] The development of the automobile industry in Detroit led to a massive increase in population, and the number of Catholics more than tripled during Foley's tenure.[3] Although the number of diocesan priests nearly doubled, there still were not enough to administer to the growing population.[3] Despite his popularity and personal charm, he was generally regarded as an ineffective bishop with an unsuccessful administration.[3]

Foley later died at age 84. His 30-year-long tenure remains the longest in the history of the Archdiocese of Detroit.[5]


  1. ^ a b c d e Leake, Paul (1912). History of Detroit. Chicago: The Lewis Publishing Company.  
  2. ^ a b c "Detroit". Catholic Encyclopedia.  
  3. ^ a b c d e f Tentler, Leslie Woodcock (December 1992). Seasons of Grace: A History of the Catholic Archdiocese of Detroit. Wayne State University Press.  
  4. ^ a b c "Bishop John Samuel Foley".  
  5. ^ a b c "History - 1701 to 2001". Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Detroit.  
Preceded by
Caspar Henry Borgess
Bishop of Detroit
Succeeded by
Michael Gallagher


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