Vorys Senior Partner Jim Foley Comes Full Circle
Matt: Jim, share with readers a bit of your childhood.
Jim: I was born in 1952 into a working class Catholic family in Youngstown, the oldest of 8 children. My mom and dad were incredibly loving parents and while we had everything we needed, we barely scraped by financially. We were what people refer to now as working poor.
In 5th grade our family moved to Akron for better job prospects and we kids attended St. Sebastian Parish’s grade school, courtesy of the St. Vincent De Paul Society, a Catholic organization that provides financial and material assistance to families in need. I’ll never forget my 8th grade teacher, Sister John Bosco (a Catholic saint who served the needs of youth during his lifetime), who called me up to her desk one day, put her finger to my chest and said, “Jimmy, your father cannot afford to send you to Archbishop Hoban High School next year. Take their scholarship test and win it; that will be your only way to attend. What would any 8th grader say but, “yes Sister.” I took the test and placed first, earning the scholarship. And it was that school, run by the Holy Cross Brothers, that gave me the education I needed to be accepted to Notre Dame.
Matt: So without that scholarship, a Catholic high school education would have been impossible for you, as well as any chance of attending a college like Notre Dame, right?
Jim: That’s exactly right and that’s one of the reasons why I’m so passionate about our mission at Cristo Rey. But I’m getting ahead of myself. I studied theology at Notre Dame, graduating in 1970 and then went on to law school there as well, graduating in 1977. By then, Vicki and I were married.
Matt: Great…but why theology and how does a theology major end up at law school?
Jim: I’ll never forget a comment one of my professors we wanted to return to Ohio to raise our children and be closer to family. Vorys had, and still has, a great reputation and a strong litigation department. And we liked that Columbus was a state capitol and the home of a great university, so we relocated in 1982.
Matt: Describe your practice there over the years.
Jim: I was a member of the litigation department my entire career, focusing on business litigation matters. It’s a department of tremendously bright lawyers and the issues we addressed, on behalf of our clients, were intellectually interesting. And the opportunity to work for John Elam, Vorys managing partner and top litigator during my early years, was a wonderful experience for which I’ll always be grateful.
Matt: Let’s move to your transition to Cristo Rey. How did that come about?
Jim: It would have taken a very special opportunity to leave Vorys. But my own childhood was a powerful impetus as I personally understood the blessing of a great Catholic high school education at a time when my family wasn’t able to afford it. I’ve always been drawn to the challenge of how to help more kids have the experience and opportunity I had. And I’ve tried to stay involved in serving those in need, most recently through my role as board chair at Catholic Social Services. When I was asked to apply for the presidency of Cristo Rey Columbus, it seemed very providential and almost like a natural next step in my life. Vicki and I took time to think it over and together we prayed about it, telling God, “Thy will be done.” As I tried to sleep that night the words of an old hymn kept running through my mind:
Here I am Lord. It is I Lord. I have heard You calling in the night.
I will go Lord, where You lead me. I will hold Your people in my heart.
It seemed an answer to our prayer and the next day I accepted the offer, beginning my official duties on January 1st of this year. In a very real sense I’ve come full circle…I am now helping young people very much like myself when I was their age.
Matt: What was your concern about making this significant transition?
Jim: I think it’s hard for someone to get a real sense of where they are financially – now and in the future – without a professional advisor to assist them. The Joseph Group helped Vicki and me understand the long term implications of this transition, giving us financial confidence that we could go forward with this exciting new chapter in our lives.
Matt: Tell us about Cristo Rey.
Jim: The first Cristo Rey school was established sixteen years ago in a poor, Hispanic area of Chicago by Father John Foley (no relation), a Jesuit priest serving in that neighborhood. Your readers may know that the Jesuits are wonderful at providing college prep educations but it is an expensive undertaking. Father Foley came up with the idea that if the students attending the school worked 4-5 days a month at local businesses (5 students sharing a job each week), their wages could help offset the expenses of the school (in essence, tuition assistance). It worked beautifully. And what Father Foley didn’t realize at the time was the tremendous benefit these inner city youth received by working in a business setting. Prior to those jobs, poverty, crime, welfare and hopelessness were the only environment they knew. But now they were spending time each week with educated and motivated people who had goals for their lives. It didn’t take long for these students to connect the dots… “I can be successful too…” Cristo Rey and its jobs program provided a road to opportunity, instilling tremendous hope and confidence in their young people. Sixteen years later and Columbus is the 26th school to be started in the Cristo Rey Network, with more large cities gearing up.
Matt: What an exciting story. How do you focus your duties?
Jim: As president, I focus on the external aspects of the school: fundraising; recruiting local businesses to employ our students in exchange for tuition assistance; finding a permanent location for the school and putting together a staff of teachers and administrators to lead the school. We’ll begin in the fall of 2013 with a freshman class only and add a class a year.
Matt: Love it. What do your family and former law partners think of this step?
Jim: Vicki and I have four grown children: Brian, Dan, Jimmy and Jeannie. All four of them and their families have been tremendously supportive. As have my former partners who have enthusiastically supported this career move. I’m blessed by the encouragement I’ve received; it’s been an important part of my transition.
Matt: What an exciting journey you’re on Jim. Thank you for sharing the story of your success to significance. Our prayers and best wishes go with you and Vicki as you embark on this next great chapter of your lives.
Jim: Thanks, Matt, I really love the work. Every time I meet someone my first comment is, “don’t take offense, but I have the best job in Columbus.”