Recently back from his fourth deployment to Afghanistan as an Army chaplain, the Rev. Matt Foley received a warm welcome Thursday at St. James Catholic Church in Arlington Heights, where he's the first new pastor in nearly 20 years.
After presiding over his first Mass since being assigned to the church, Foley was surprised by parishioners who lined up outside the church early Thursday morning to greet him with signs, balloons and bubbles.
The new head pastor was moved to tears at the sight.
"It was wonderful," he said. "It reminded me of getting back from Afghanistan."
Foley returned from his fourth deployment as a captain with the Chaplain Corps on Memorial Day and since then has been processing out of the Army at Fort Campbell, Ky.
Parishioners said they wanted to be there to welcome the new pastor to the community and that they are looking forward to getting to know him.
"We're just so happy we could be here to welcome him, we're so excited," said Pat Bethel, who lives in Palatine.
"We're thrilled. He was very commanding, had a good sense of humor and strong sense of faith," said fellow parishioner Marie Sierocki.
Foley is a 1981 graduate of Libertyville High School and has served at churches in Chicago's Lawndale and Little Village neighborhoods. He also spent six years as pastor of Santiago Apostol in Quechultenango, a city in the southwestern Mexico.
In 2008 Foley was commissioned into the U.S. Army as a captain serving in the Chaplain Corps. He served a 14-month deployment to Afghanistan with the 82nd Airborne Division. He later was assigned to Special Operations and served two more deployments to Afghanistan. According to the church website, his most recent deployment was with the 101st Airborne Division.
While it took him a bit longer than planned to get to St. James, he had been blogging on the parish website to help his new community learn more about him.
"It's a wonderful community," he said. "I'm following in the footsteps of many great pastors. I'm very excited."
Foley is replacing the Rev. Bill Zavaski, who retired from St. James in June after 18 years with the parish.
"He is married to the church so we thought 'Why not give him a wedding reception?'" said Lynne Luehrs, one of the parishioners who coordinated Thursday's celebration. "We're so glad to have him here."