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Priesthood was the only way he could be a true servant of Christ

By Mark Haney
The Catholic Times

EAST LANSING — Fr. Jake Foglio wanted to get into radio. Instead he got into medicine.

He just wanted to be a “Christ-bearer,” but he wound up becoming a priest.

Now, even after 50 years as a priest, he does not consider it his “calling.”

Fr. Jake Foglio

“I felt my calling was to be a Christ-bearer,” he said. “I didn’t want to be a priest. I wanted to be normal.  I wanted to have a family. And I felt when I decided to do this I was really taking a big leap and it hurt because I felt something die inside of me. But I am glad I did that. That doesn’t necessarily mean I think the priesthood was my calling. My calling was to be a full-blown servant of Jesus Christ.”

Being a servant and serving others is all he has wanted to be.

“What called me was the idea of service,” he said. “I wanted to serve in what I thought was the best way. And while I know now that you don’t necessarily serve in the ‘best way’ as a priest, I am still glad I did.”

He was born in New Rochelle, N.Y. And his mother was a great influence on him.

He often quotes her, citing axioms she gave him.

“My mother was the priest in our family,” he said. “I think we all are ordained as priest-prophets at our baptism. That was most important ordination for me.”

He grew up wanting to do something in radio.

“I always knew I wanted to be a Christ bearer — a Christopher — but I didn’t want to be a priest,” he said. “I just wanted to bear Christ to the world and I did that ever since I was in grammar school. I was going to go into engineering after high school (he graduated in 1947). My mother gave me a quote that I used in my graduation address: ‘Radio gives wings to words and music.’ It was beautiful. That was how I wanted to carry Christ, not as an evangelist but just through me and use radio as the medium.”

At that time, the three places to go for broadcasting were Michigan State University, Ohio State University and St. Lawrence University. He applied to all three.

“I was going to the first one that came through and that was Michigan State,” he said. “Ohio State came through the very next day. That’s why I came here. That’s was the reason. I am very happy I did that.”

He studied and worked at WKAR, the campus radio station in East Lansing. Then, after graduating with a bachelor’s degree in communications, he worked at WTVB in Coldwater.  It was the early 1950s, and a war was breaking out in a little-known place called Korea.

“I was always in danger of being drafted,” he said. And then he was, in the middle of the Korean War. “I knew I was not going to be long to avoid that.”

He was drafted in the Marine Corps and sent to Parris Island, S.C., for basic training. Then it was two years of active duty and six years in the reserves.

“I was lucky enough to be assigned to the Sixth Fleet, which was in the Atlantic (Ocean) instead of the Pacific, which would have meant going to Korea,” he said.

“Much of the time we worked on multi-national exercises, making landings with French marines and commandos and stuff like that.”

When he finished his tour of duty he decided to join the priesthood because, as he said, that was, at that time, considered the highest way to serve God. He went to Loyola University and then to St. Jerome University in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada. Then he entered Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy in 1957.

He could have become a priest for his home diocese in New York, but chose instead to become a Diocese of Lansing priest, he said, because “I love the spirit out here and I love the priests.

“I did feel a little guilty though because I’m an Italian American and there aren’t a lot of us here. But I know an Irish priest can go there and be happy.”

He then went to St. John Provincial Seminary in Plymouth for four more years. He was ordained in 1961, 10 years to the day from when he graduated from MSU.

His first assignment was as an assistant and high school teacher at St. Augustine Parish and School in Kalamazoo, now the cathedral of the Diocese of Kalamazoo.

“It is not exactly known as the inner city parish,” he said,  “but we had a tremendous part that was like one and we had to take care of the state hospital and all of the nursing homes.”

Then he was at St. Mary in Jackson, another downtown parish. He taught high school there too. Then he was assigned to Sacred Heart Parish in Flint before going back to East Lansing from 1967-69. Then he was sent to St, John the Evangelist in Fenton for three years before returning to East Lansing and St. John Student Parish in 1972.

He’s been there ever since, leaving a lasting impression.

“I have known Fr. Jake since I was an undergraduate at MSU from 1973-77,” said Fr. Mark Inglot, now pastor of the two East Lansing parishes. “He was the ‘pied piper’ of college students. Fr. Jake is himself a Spartan and spent most of his ministry at St. John Church and Student Center. Anyone for the past several generations of students, faculty and staff at MSU knows, loves and remembers him. He is the last of the progressive priests from the Vatican II era of the Church. His preaching is prophetic and he sometimes has suffered the same fate of the Old Testament prophets and the early disciples in the New Testament.  He is generous and kind and loves Jesus.”

“Fr. Jake loves God and His people,” said Fr. Joe Krupp, director of campus ministry at MSU and St. John Student Center. “He doesn’t limit that love to people of the same world view or theological bend, he shares it freely with all. I have had the honor and privilege of serving Mass with him, of watching him serve and love God’s people. He is a gentle, loving soul who seeks to serve and give his all in whatever he does. I am blessed to know him.”

In the meantime, he’d earned a master’s degree at St. John’s University and a doctorate in ministry from St. Mary University in Baltimore, Md., so the bishop let him join the faculty at MSU. He first a quarter of his time was spent as a professor, then half and then three-quarters.

“I wouldn’t go past three-quarter’s time,” he said, “because I always wanted to be a priest and remain involved in the ministry.”

Even though he is retired —“I’ve retired three times and it hasn’t made a difference,  he said — he remains involved in campus ministry and  research at MSU.

“You have choices when you retire,” he said, “and I keep choosing to remain active.”

His focus at MSU has been a curriculum on spirituality in medicine. He’s presently working on a million-dollar grant to study breast cancer and spirituality Another grant helped him create a course used to teach both D.O.s and M.D.s  in the College of Human Medicine as well as future lawyers at Cooley Law School.

“It teaches that spirituality is not synonymous with religion,” he said. “Everyone has spirituality, just not everyone supports it as we do, religiously. Even agnostics and secular humanists, everyone has a spirituality.

“You can call it whatever you want but we have to practice both our science and our humanity. We have to practice compassion because it does not come naturally. That is what I teach.”

He draws on both what he has learned and what he has lived.

“Aristotle said virtue is excellence and function,” he said. “Every professional should have dual excellence. You should be excellent in your science and also excellent as a human being. Unless you are both you can’t apply your expertise.”

He also remains physically active, playing tennis three times a week at MSU, even at age 82.  “But,” he added, “we have guys who are 90 who still are playing.”

And he still is involved at St. John and St. Thomas Aquinas Parish, where he does a lot of crisis intervention, he said, “because I have been there so long and I know where to refer people.”

His seminary class is pretty remarkable too. They gather annually. Of the 28 in the class, only seven are deceased.

And he still relies on things his mother taught him.

“My mother once told me, ‘If you don’t love, you die. If you do love, you might get killed,’” he said. “If you don’t have enemies, you have to wonder what you are doing. Jesus was hated. That doesn’t mean you have to go out wanting to be hated but if you ever start living His love, it touches people’s lives and that can be resented.”