THE widow of rugby legend Anthony Foley has told how fans’ response to a prayer marathon in his memory has been an “unforgettable experience of solidarity”.
And proud Olive Foley later explained that the campaign — dreamed up by her son Tony on the day after his dad’s burial in October — had “reflected the kindness of people”.
Munster back-row icon turned coach “Axel” Foley died in his sleep on October 16, aged just 42, as his team prepared to play Paris club Racing 92 in a European Champions Cup opener.
In a touching tribute at the start of today’s memorial Mass, his wife Olive — together with 11-year-old Tony and his brother Dan — placed a red No 8 jersey on a table in front of the altar.
Watched on by Axel’s parents Brendan and Sheila, and sister Rosie, they then lit a candle in memory of all who have died and been remembered in the campaign, which has reached more than 2.5million people over social media.
In an emotional homily, Knock parish priest Fr Richard Gibbons explained that while he never met Foley, he was struck by his likeness in character to St Joseph, the Virgin Mary’s husband.
He said: “St Joseph uttered no words whatsoever in scripture but from what I have heard of Anthony, he was, publicly at least, a man who preferred to let his actions do the talking but when he did talk, people listened. He was, also like Joseph, a great family man and we welcome the Foley family with love and support here today to Knock. They have been remarkable in their grief. They have been so selfless in inviting others to remember their loved ones with Anthony in this campaign and it has helped so many. I’ve read some of the comments and what’s struck me is just how appreciative people were of this.”
“Many people have gone back to Mass for the first time in a long time as a result of this campaign and really appreciated and liked being back. It shows yet again that there is a great need for spirituality and the door is always open.”
Fr Gibbons’ words drew sustained applause from the congregation, and speaking afterwards, Olive Foley told how the Mass — and the seven that went before — would carry the family through the tough days ahead at home in Killaloe, Co Clare.
She said: “We’ve had and will continue to have for a long, long time very difficult moments and days. But today was a good day for us and this campaign generally has been amazing.
She added: “We were just so privileged to have so many others join us in this journey and we will never, ever forget that. We offered today’s Mass for all those who died and whose family or friends wanted remembered by this campaign. What we saw here again today reminded us of just how important our faith is and how it is carrying us through a very difficult time.”