Sister Rena Foley, CSJ

Sister Rena Foley, CSJ

(Sr. Clare Denise)

July 19, 1931 – September 24, 2022

We remember her

in the rustling of the leaves

and in the beauty of autumn.


I had the privilege of entering the Sisters of St. Joseph with Rena Foley in the September of 1959. She was 28 years old and the majority of us were 17. She had been a professional dancer in New York and owned two dance studios while most of us were right out of high school. Rena became our teacher, mentor, instructor of song and dance, and everyone’s friend. With a twinkle in her eye, a great sense of humor, and a fondness for mischief, Rena kept fifty-three postulants, literally and figuratively, “on our toes!!” She had a passion for the things of God. When asked why she entered religious life she responded, “God’s love is the most important desire of my life.”

Rena was born in Medford to Nicholas and Mary Foley. She was the youngest of four children. Her brothers, Harold and James, and her sister, Claire, cherished their little sister. At an early age, her mother enrolled her in dancing school. Thus began her lifetime of dancing.

Rena’s early years of ministry were spent teaching at Gate of Heaven in South Boston, St Francis, Braintree, St. Columbkille, Brighton, and St. Bridget’s in Framingham. In the 80’s, Rena heard another call in her ministerial life: to study to become a chaplain.

She served as a chaplain at Mary Immaculate Restorative Center in Lawrence, Director of Pastoral Care at Fontbonne Hall in Framingham, the Franciscan Children’s Hospital in Brighton, and the McNamara House in Allston. She combined her gifts of prayer, dance, her fierce advocacy for justice, and her love for people in every aspect of her life and ministry. The joy of God was her strength.

The Sisters of St. Joseph will forever be grateful for the ways she enhanced our liturgies and celebrations with her prayerful, expressive dance. Rena knew that, all through her life, she was held in God’s hands and now we believe that she is held lovingly in God’s hands forever.

“Friendship isn’t about who you’ve known the longest; it’s about who walked into your life and said, ‘I’m here for you’
and proved it!”

Given by: Denise Kelly, CSJ
September 30, 2022

Rena and I shared an amazing friendship for 63 years. Often, she would say to me, “How blessed we are, Maureen.!” And every greeting card would end with that same phrase! And indeed we were! …I am!

We actually grew up in Medford, a little less than two miles away from each other, and graduated from the same grammar school — but 8 years apart! So we didn’t know each other then, but, I do clearly remember being impressed by the radiant smile of the young woman who held the door for me one morning as we were leaving early Mass at St. Joseph Church!

When Rena answered God’s call to enter the Sisters of St. Joseph, she chose the same priest-sponsor I had, and in 1959, Fr. Doyle brought Rena to the Novitiate to meet me and thus began a friendship that I will treasure forever. It is in the light of that friendship that I share these brief thoughts today.

I’m pretty sure that if I were to ask you to speak out a word or phrase that describes Rena for you, we would hear such things as: loving devoted aunt, dear and faithful friend, a compassionate, fun-loving, incredible dancer, dynamic personality, contagious smile, enthusiasm for life, and the list would go on and on. And all of these would be true, for Rena was all of that and more.

But I’m not so sure that I would hear the words, contemplative spirit. Yet, that indeed was the essence of Rena. It was her desire for a deeper relationship with God that led Rena from the glitter of show business to live the mission of unifying love as a sister of St. Joseph. That in itself is a remarkable story! Once Rena heard God’s call, out on the grassy hill at the Shrine of the 40 Martyrs in Auresville NY, for Rena, there was no turning back. The engagement ring was returned to John, the 2 dancing studios were sold, and off she went in search of the More!

Several years ago, when we were living at St. Bridget’s, Framingham, (where, by the way, Rena’s deep friendship with Rita began) I received a call from Rena’s sister, Claire, asking me if I thought Rena was serious about transferring to a contemplative community! Of course, my response was, “I certainly hope not!” Obviously, this did not happen but Rena continued to live as a devoted CSJ, balancing a contemplative and active life.

In a few minutes we’ll hear in our gathering song:
Nothing can truly set me free.
Except your love flowing through my being
Speaking to me of things unknown.
And in your love flowing through my being
My soul awakens to you, Holy One!

This was one of Rena’s favorite hymns. She prayed it daily, usually with gestures. In fact, her exercise classes with the seniors at McNamara House always began with their praying this. Her sincerest desire was to live in the awareness of God’s love flowing through her being.

Rena began each day awakening to God’s love. She treasured her morning quiet time as sacred and guarded it religiously. So often in our faith sharing, Rena would express her gratitude to God and say, “I am who I am and where I am through the grace of God!”

I’m sure, all our hearts were moved, when on several occasions we witnessed God’s love flowing through her being as she prayed through the medium of body prayer, a term she used for Liturgical dance.

I believe that it was Rena’s awareness that God loved her deeply that allowed her to reach out in love to so many others. She has so many dear, dear friends, one of whom, Liane, came from Ohio to be with us today, this September 30th. Each day, in her last few years before leaving for Bethany, Rena would take out her little blue address book, call a friend or two, and always end with “It’s so nice to hear your voice!” She meant that most sincerely for she cherished her many friends. How I would love to hear her voice again!

To say that she loved her family would be an understatement. She treasured her times at family celebrations of Christmas and other holidays, birthdays, graduations, weddings, or just being together for no special reason.
Her niece, Nancy, recalls that when she was pregnant with Nick, and Jim was away on a business trip, Rena was the one who accompanied her to her ultrasound appointment! Her grand-niece Lisa looks back in fond amazement to the day her great aunt, Rena, at age 66, taught her how to do a cartwheel!

All of Rena’s grand-nieces and nephews remember how much Rena loved sharing Christmas Eve with them; how she would arrive with scratch tickets for them all. “She always had the best smile. She was so fun-loving, and when she hugged you, you knew she meant it!” Tom and Jeff remember, as young kids, playing hide and seek with Rena. Once, in search of the best hiding place, she climbed on top of their grandfather’s camper, and cut her knee! Richie especially remembers the blessing Rena sent to be shared at his wedding because she was unable to attend.

Skip, who is currently walking the Camino and unable to be with us today, says that the most important thing he learned from his aunt Rena was how to question things.

He writes, “Asking questions of anything or everything and being able to be a critical thinker was something Rena taught me how to do.  This happened at nearly every family gathering and almost every time we talked. She taught me that asking questions did not mean you doubted or didn’t have loyalty. It was rather a sort of sign that you had deep faith.  And now in my own life, I have a reputation for asking questions and being fiercely loyal. My questions seek to better understand, push boundaries, and make sure more angles are taken into consideration. This is something Rena did at each family gathering by asking me questions.”

My own nieces remember with fondness their overnights at St. Bridget’s convent. They would make sure they packed their leotards because they were sure that Aunt Rena would bring them over to the hall to work out on all the gymnastic equipment. How they loved those times with Rena!

Although Rena, Rita, and I shared many wonderful vacations, her favorite place to visit was Aruba. Rena and I began our day at 7:00 am on the beach, with a cup of coffee and quiet reflection time. When Rita joined us a little later, we shared morning prayer, followed by breakfast of orange juice and Rita’s homemade date/nut bread. And then Rena took off to “work the beach”, introducing herself to those she met along the way, listening to their stories. She loved people and delighted in letting them know that she was a Sister of St. Joseph. We still receive Christmas cards from people Rena met in Aruba!

There is so much more in my heart that I could share about Rena, but that would take forever. I’m sure I have already gone over my time! But before I close, I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the Motherhouse residents who, in the final year of Rena’s living here, opened your homes to her for her “pop-in” visits, either early in the morning or later in the day. She knew those who rose early and would check to see when others’ cars were home in the late afternoon or early evening. Rena would appear in your living room, stand before you with arms folded across her chest, a radiant smile on her face, often say nothing, turn and look out your window, and then help herself to your candy on her way out! She knew where the candy dish was in each apartment! Your welcome meant so much to her! Thank you!

Rena did indeed put her ear to God’s heart and let God’s song sing in her…(dance) through her. Because of this, those of us who loved her and were loved by her are better people.

I love you, Rena, and although I will miss you terribly, how could I let my heart be sad, knowing that you no longer have to “only imagine what it will be like?” Having now been breathed back into the breath of God, you know what it is like to be held in the loving embrace of the God you loved and served so well. So, Rena, do indeed dance for God, with God, and then, rest in peace, my beloved friend.

Given by Maureen Doherty, CSJ, Rena’s friend for 63 years.

September 30th