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St. Francis High School welcomes new president

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St. Francis High School welcomed Father Matthew Foley, OFM Conv., as the new president of the Athol Springs school on Sept. 9. Father Foley has been with the Franciscan high school since 2018, when he came onboard as director of Campus Ministry. He was named president in June.

Father Matthew Foley, OFM Conv., addresses family, friends and alumni from the football field at St. Francis High School. As the new president of the Athol Springs high school, he plans on keeping the Franciscan spirit alive. (Photo by Patrick J. Buechi)

Around campus he is known as Friar Matt. Although he is an ordained priest, he prefers the more fraternal title. The term friar comes from the Latin root frater, meaning brother. “St. Francis always referred to himself as Brother Francis. I wouldn’t want to one up him,” he said.  

The on-campus reception allowed family, friends and alumni to meet greet and welcome Father Foley to his new position.

During a brief address to his guests, Father Foley thanked his parents who came up from Boston, for providing all of their seven children with Catholic education.  

“Their love and value of Catholic education, I think I must have absorbed it into my bones, because from the moment I joined the friars, all I wanted to do was serve in our Catholic schools,” he said. “It’s been the great privilege of my life to now be beginning my 15th year in Franciscan education. And what a blessing that is.”

At St. Francis and Baltimore’s Archbishop Curley High School, Father Foley has served under four school presidents and wants to use the best practices from each of them to take St. Francis forward to its next chapter.

The school is reopening its Resident Program by welcoming students from Kazakhstan, Canada, Spain, Serbia, Baltimore, Florida and one young man from Texas whose grandfather who lived in the dorms in the 1950s.

“Our St. Francis family is strong, and our school and our community is richer and better because they are there. That’s something for us to be grateful for,” Father Foley said.

Some of the school’s technological advancements include 12 new SmartBoards that will help STEM education and the opening of a new esports room.

“I promise you that I am going to do everything to make you continue to be proud of St. Francis,” he told the cheering crowd of alumni.

The school operates on a president-principal model. Newly-named Interim Principal John Zygaj will oversee the day-to-day running of the school. While Father Foley will assist in running the school, but it also involved with all the external measures such as contacting alums, benefactors, strategic planning for the school, friendraising and fundraising.

While serving as guardian of the friary, he oversaw his fellow friars, helping them to flourish in their vocation. “It’s my hope that I am able to do here at school, to help our guys, our faculty and staff, for our families, to help each of them grow into what God called them to be. The most important thing we do here is form Franciscan hearted- and Franciscan-minded me,” he said in a private interview.

Alumni welcome Father Matthew Foley, OFM Conv., as he takes on the role of president of St. Francis High School. The school faculty held a reception for Father Foley on Sept. 9. (Photo by Patrick J. Buechi)

“When the school opened in 1927 I think we did the things we needed to do in 1927 that were best for the kids then. And in the ’50s and ’80s and early 2000s. So, in preparation for 21st century learners making sure that technological resources, making sure that critical thinking skills. Our guys are some amazing writers and thinkers and public speakers. We really want to cultivate those skills that are really going to be important and set us apart.”

Deacon Steve Schumer, now the president and CEO of Catholic Charities of Buffalo, graduated from St. Francis in 1977, and has continued to stay close to the school. He sent his son, who graduated in 2008, and now sits on the board of directors.

“It’s a small school feel, but there’s still enough size to have all the athletics and opportunities,” he said. “They’re seriously interested in the well-being of each young man who comes through here. They take a young man as a boy, he graduates here as a self-assured, well-adjusted young man. I’m so proud of what they do here.”

He thinks highly of the new president as well.

“Friar Matt is so happy to be here. I love his youthful energy, his positive spirit, and just the way he approaches the job.”

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