The Death of a Son and a Mother’s Faith

Diane Foley, whose son Jim was executed in 2014 by Islamic State jihadists, recommends to mourning mothers, ‘Take refuge in our Blessed Mother Mary, who precisely understands a mother’s heart and love for her children, no matter the circumstance.’

Diane and James (Jim) Foley; Diane runs the foundation named for her late son that advocates for the safe return of all Americans held hostage or unjustly detained abroad.
Diane and James (Jim) Foley; Diane runs the foundation named for her late son that advocates for the safe return of all Americans held hostage or unjustly detained abroad. (photo: Courtesy of Diane Foley)

In August 2014, news broke that Islamic State jihadists had executed freelance journalist James Foley and posted a video of his beheading. Foley, 40, had been missing for two years while covering the conflict in Syria. 

James Wright Foley was born on Oct. 18, 1973, in Evanston, Illinois. He was the first-born son of Diane and John Foley of Rochester, New Hampshire. After graduating from Kingswood High School in 1992, he attended Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Eventually, Foley trained as a journalist at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, before going on to became a war correspondent. He reported from Iraq, then Afghanistan, Libya and finally Syria.

His family’s final communication with him was one week before his kidnapping on Nov. 22, 2012, in northern Syria. Subsequently, Foley was murdered on Aug. 19, 2014, in the Raqqa region of Syria.

Diane Foley founded the James W. Foley Legacy Foundation in September 2014, less than a month after her son’s execution. It advocates for the safe return of all Americans held hostage or unjustly detained abroad.

She is currently serving as the foundation’s president and executive director.

Last month, she spoke to the Register via email. 


Is Mother’s Day harder for you than most, given your son is not with you? 

Mother’s Day is difficult, but also a day to be grateful for the gift of motherhood. It is a day of deep gratitude for the gift of our five children, our four living ones and our seven precious grandchildren.

It is also the day I spend time with my own 97-year-old mother, who was nearly crushed by the brutal loss of her first grandson.


How did the Catholic praying community support you and your family while James was held hostage? 

My local Roman Catholic community and friends in faith prayed with me, for me, and held prayer vigils. Several holy priests reached out and offered Masses and Divine Mercy Chaplets.

Talk to me about how your faith helped you through the loss of James

My faith in a loving and merciful God has been essential for me throughout. Holy Scripture and the Eucharist have fed me and made me acutely aware of God’s presence and blessed Mary’s holy intercession throughout Jim’s captivity and horrific public murder.


Do you have any spiritual insights for others who are going through similar traumatic events? 

Bathe yourself in God’s grace and presence. 

It helped hugely that God prepared me through a desire and an interest in my faith from my teenage years. Years of attending Holy Mass, Scripture studies, charismatic and non-charismatic prayer groups, Cursillo, Marriage Encounter, Retrouvaille, Life in the Spirit Seminars, spiritual direction all prepared me, strengthened my faith. 

Years of daily Scripture periodicals like Word Among Us, the Magnificat and Give Us This Day have nurtured and challenged me. More recently, I have found Matthew Kelly’s books and Dynamic Catholic, as well as apps like Regnum Christi, Hallow and Formed, very helpful.

I highly recommend a firm spiritual foundation to endure the trials and struggles of life. 


Why did you start the James W. Foley Legacy Foundation? 

I was angry and felt abandoned by the U.S. government, who continually said, “Jim was their highest priority,” while knowing no attempts were being made to negotiate or free him and the other three Americans form ISIS captivity. I felt that we could do better as Americans to prioritize the return of innocent Americans taken hostage abroad and to promote journalist safety.

James Foley, war correspondent
James Foley, war correspondent(Photo: Courtesy of Diane Foley)


What is the foundation’s purpose? 

Inspired by the life, work and moral courage of American journalist, educator and humanitarian James W. Foley, we catalyse action, research and policy to advocate for freedom for all U.S. nationals wrongfully detained or held hostage abroad, to ensure government accountability to prioritize their safe return and to educate and protect journalists and international travelers.


Memorial to James Foley
A memorial to James Foley highlights his journalistic work and moral courage.(Photo: Courtesy of Diane Foley)

Does working with journalists held hostage not bring back a lot of personal painful memories? 

Of course, it does, but it also reminds me of the progress Jim’s legacy foundation has made. 

When Jim was kidnapped in 2012, we were told to keep quiet; no press freedom groups offered help. There was little media or public interest, and no one in our government was accountable to assist our family in seeking Jim’s freedom. Now, thankfully, there is increased public awareness, partly due to the documentary Jim: The James Foley Story, from interested media and other vocal desperate American families who endure this ordeal.

After the murders of seven innocent Americans in 2014-2015, President Obama issued a “Presidential Policy Directive 30,” which created our current: U.S. interagency Hostage Recovery Fusion Cell, Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs and Hostage Response Group — all accountable for the return of U.S. nationals taken hostage abroad. So now, at least, we have U.S. government and non-government people working with U.S. families to bring their loved ones home.

Negotiating for the release of U.S. nationals is still very difficult. Increasingly, captors and other governments — like Russia, China, Iran, Syria and Venezuela — seek to use our citizens as political pawns to extract concessions from the U.S. government and directly interfere with U.S. foreign policy. 

So there is still much work to be done to prioritize the return of our citizens, while deterring international hostage-taking.


Did/does your Catholic faith play a part in the creation and day-to-day activity of the foundation? 

My Catholic faith sustains me. 

As a mother and family nurse practitioner who had no prior knowledge of Washington D.C., government, hostage-taking or journalism, founding and running the James W. Foley Legacy Foundation has been the greatest challenge of my life. It has been humbling and empowering and required daily surrender to God’s grace to use me and pray for wisdom. It would not have been possible without countless generous and caring people who have donated their time, talents and treasure and continue to support our mission.

The legacy of James Foley lives on in the work of his namesake foundation.
The legacy of James Foley lives on in the work of his namesake foundation.(Photo: Courtesy of Diane Foley)


What would you say to mothers who — for whatever reason — are grieving this Mother’s Day? Take refuge in our Blessed Mother Mary, who precisely understands a mother’s heart and love for her children, no matter the circumstance. 

Pray and develop a relationship with God. Attend Mass and Eucharist adoration. Attend retreats, Cursillo, Life in the Spirit Seminars. Read Scripture.

Make friends in Christ to strengthen your faith.

Know that you are not alone. God and so many others grieve with you. 

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