Foley has been remembered as a young man who was motivated to help the less fortunate, a quality apparently awakened when he began studies at Jesuit-run Marquette University, where a memorial service is planned for Tuesday evening.
Bill Thorn, associate professor of journalism, remembers when Foley came back to speak at his alma mater in 2011. He had been in prison in Libya, accused by the regime of spying.
“He talked about the importance of journalism and dealing with the kinds of poverty and the kinds of tragedies that humans were suffering in Libya because he documented that stuff,” Thorn said in an interview. “He wanted to go where people were suffering and tell the story in the hopes of changing things.”
Thorn, who was chairman of the journalism department when Foley was there, said the young history major got involved in social justice-oriented activities when he came to Marquette such as teaching reading in after-school programs.
“He said he didn’t realize how privileged his life was until he started working with the poor, that he felt like he had missed out on a whole part of the world and needed to correct things,” Thorn said. “It’s all part of that Jesuit push to be a man for others.
Marquette has published a widely-cited letter that Foley wrote recounting how he learned the value of praying the rosary while in the Libyan prison.
"I began to pray the rosary. It was what my mother and grandmother would have prayed. I said 10 Hail Marys between each Our Father. It took a long time, almost an hour to count 100 Hail Marys off on my knuckles. And it helped to keep my mind focused," he wrote.
"He was a bit different from some of the traditional war reporters, who have gone into battle knowing that their life is at risk but do it anyway because the story has to be told," Thorn commented. "He went in to reveal some of the injustice."
“He was extraordinarily passionate and kind, determined and straight-forward, honorable and faithful,” said Mark Sedarski, a Milwaukee area public relations specialist who knew Foley at Marquette.
Foley reported for the media outlet GlobalPost, whose co-founder Charlie Sennott told WBZ-TV Foley’s family had shown great strength.
“His family has an extraordinary faith. And that faith is really the only light that seems to be piercing through all the darkness that surrounded the death of Jim Foley,” Sennott said.
A funeral for Foley will be Oct. 18, what would have been his 41st birthday.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.