Service Award

FoleyJames Wright Foley, Arts ’96 (posthumously) and the James W. Foley Legacy Foundation
Portsmouth, N. H.

The foundation of moral courage Jim Foley gained at Marquette and continued to develop throughout his career as a frontline, conflict zone journalist guided him to tell the stories of the voiceless and those trapped in turmoil in war-torn regions. His ultimate sacrifice in the line of reporting inspired the creation and heroic ongoing work of the James W. Foley Legacy Foundation, which advocates tirelessly on behalf of Americans held captive abroad, journalist safety and inspiring moral courage one person at a time.

As a journalist, James Wright Foley sought work that mattered. Journalism allowed Jim to merge his storytelling capabilities with his social conscience, leading to his work as a reporter in conflict zones. While working as a freelance war correspondent in Syria in 2012, Jim was abducted and, after being held captive for nearly two years, became the first American citizen killed by ISIS.

Before his courageous reporting career, Jim laid the foundation for his impactful work through a Bachelor of Arts in history and Spanish from Marquette. He went on to earn a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and a Master of Science in journalism from Northwestern University.

Jim’s capture in Syria was not his first encounter with the dangers that frontline journalists face. In 2011, he was captured while working on a project in Libya. He was released after 44 days in captivity and returned home to New England. In interviews following his release and in an article he wrote for Marquette Magazine, Jim candidly described the role of prayer in helping him navigate his ordeal.

Despite his harrowing experience, Jim felt passionately about the career path he’d chosen. “I believe frontline journalism is important,” he once said. “[Without it], we can't tell the world how bad it might be."

Following Jim’s death in 2014, his family created the James W. Foley Legacy Foundation to continue his commitment to truth and compassion for those without a voice. The Foley Foundation advocates for the safe return of American hostages and educates student journalists about safety in dangerous situations. Its ethos is “inspiring moral courage one person at a time.”

Jim chose Marquette because of its Jesuit liberal arts program and values, and the university truly became his second home. “We never imagined what a transformative spiritual and intellectual experience Marquette would provide for both Jim and our family,” says Diane Foley, Jim’s mother and the founder and president of JWFLF. “Jim’s spirit was fed and nurtured daily, and [he was] challenged to make a difference.”

Today, the Foley Foundation collaborates with the government and researchers to prioritize the return of innocent Americans held captive abroad, deter the horrific practice of international hostage-taking, and promote journalism safety for aspiring journalists and freelance journalists, which was first piloted at Marquette’s J. William and Mary Diederich College of Communication. The Foley Safety Modules have been fully integrated into Marquette’s undergraduate journalism curriculum and set a core safety competency standard for aspiring journalists.

Marquette has also paid tribute to Jim’s legacy through the preservation of his letters and journals. In a project spearheaded by Tom Durkin, Jim’s close friend at Marquette and Foley Foundation education program director, his life’s work is captured in a collection of personal photos, stories, letters, and journals housed at Marquette’s Raynor Library.

Jim’s memory also lives on with the James Foley Scholarship in the Diederich College. The scholarship supports communication students who commit to social justice through service and aspire to work for positive change. And the Foley Foundation has worked with Marquette’s Center for Peacemaking to foster research and action to promote peace, human dignity, and justice.

Diane Foley and others at the Foley Foundation are devoted to continuing Jim’s pursuit of truth, compassion, and justice. “We are deeply honored, humbled and forever grateful to God for our son Jim and Marquette University for continuing to inspire students to Be The Difference for good in their communities and our great nation,” says Diane. 

Click here to learn more about the James W. Foley Legacy Foundation.

Fun Fact:

  • Marquette challenged Jim to Be The Difference and influenced him to begin his career as a teacher with Teach for America in Arizona.
  • Students and staff at Lowell Elementary School in Phoenix (where Jim taught for three years) have also created a scholarship in his name.


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