By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter
Wednesday was supposed to be a life-affirming day for the Catholic, Jesuit university located in the heart of Milwaukee. Instead, Marquette welcomes 2,000 freshman on “move-in” day with a mixture of joy and profound grief.
“The Marquette community is deeply saddened by the death of alumnus and freelance journalist James Foley,” a 1996 Marquette graduate, the university said Wednesday in a statement. “We extend our heartfelt prayers and wishes for healing to James’ family and friends during this very difficult time.”
“James, who majored in history at Marquette, had a heart for social justice and used his immense talents to tell the difficult stories in the hopes that they might make a difference in the world — a measure of his character for which we could not be prouder,” the university statement adds.
Foley, a veteran journalist who vividly captured the horrors of war and terrorism in some of the most dangerous places on earth, was kidnapped on Thanksgiving Day in 2012 in northwest Syria.
He was in a taxi, reportedly on his way to the border, when an “organized gang” stopped the car and grabbed Foley and his translator, according to the FBI. For nearly two years, news on the reporter and his whereabouts went dark.
That is until Tuesday, when the Islamic State militant group, ISIS, released a video of a man with a shaved head wearing an orange jump suit, kneeling beside a terrorist dressed in black, his face masked. The screen goes dark only to return with a horrific scene. The terrorist, who spoke with a British accent and grasped a knife, appears to have beheaded his captive.
Foley’s parents confirmed their son’s identity.
In the video the terrorist threatens another captured journalist, Steven Sotloff. “The life of this American citizen, Obama, depends on your next decision,” the masked man proclaimed.
Foley had spent several weeks in captivity in 2011 after being kidnapped by the regime in Libya. He expressed in a letter to the Marquette community the power and strength he drew not only from his own prayer, but also from the prayers of his family and friends.
“Marquette University has always been a friend to me. The kind who challenges you to do more and be better and ultimately shapes who you become,” Foley began the letter.
The journalist described how he and two colleagues were held in a military detention center in Tripoli, and how each day brought “increasing worry that our moms would begin to panic.”
Eighteen days in, haggard but overjoyed, Foley was allowed to call his family.
“I said a final prayer and dialed the number,” Foley recalled. “My mom answered the phone. ‘Mom, Mom, it’s me, Jim.’”
Here is a portion of Foley’s account of the conversation:
‘Jimmy, where are you?
“I’m still in Libya, Mom. I’m sorry about this. So sorry.”
“Don’t be sorry, Jim,” she pleaded. “Oh, Daddy just left. Oh … He so wants to talk to you. How are you, Jim?” I told her I was being fed, that I was getting the best bed and being treated like a guest.
“Are they making you say these things, Jim?”
“No, the Libyans are beautiful people,” I told her. “I’ve been praying for you to know that I’m OK,” I said. “Haven’t you felt my prayers?”
“Oh, Jimmy, so many people are praying for you. All your friends, Donnie, Michael Joyce, Dan Hanrahan, Suree, Tom Durkin, Sarah Fang have been calling. Your brother Michael loves you so much.” She started to cry.
“They’re having a prayer vigil for you at Marquette. Don’t you feel our prayers?” she asked.
“I do, Mom, I feel them,” and I thought about this for a second. Maybe it was others’ prayers strengthening me, keeping me afloat.
The official made a motion. I started to say goodbye. Mom started to cry. “Mom, I’m strong. I’m OK.
“We love you, Jim!” she said. Then I hung up.
Foley wrote that on his last night in Tripoli he was able to connect to the Internet. He listened to speech at the Marquette vigil.
“It felt like a best man speech and a eulogy in one,” the journalist wrote. “It showed tremendous heart and was just a glimpse of the efforts and prayers people were pouring forth. If nothing else, prayer was the glue that enabled my freedom, an inner freedom first and later the miracle of being released during a war in which the regime had no real incentive to free us. It didn’t make sense, but faith did.”
On Aug. 27, James Foley’s Marquette family will again hold a prayer vigil — this time to remember the life of the intrepid journalist and to support his grieving family. The vigil is scheduled to begin at 4 p.m. in the Chapel of the Holy Family (Alumni Memorial Union, 2nd Floor).
There will be prayers of a different sort this time.
“Jim was full of life. He was an example of we want in our Marquette students, to learn about the world around them and find interests and skills to make the world better,” said Andy Brodzeller, Marquette spokesman. “Jim is an example of that and we hope we can all learn from him, no matter how we choose to do that ourselves.”