With over 3,200 signed baseball lining the walls of Foley’s bar in Midtown Manhattan, one would think there was little left to add to the collection of baseball-themed memorabilia.
The impressive list includes baseballs from Bono, the Edge, Harry Potter-actor Daniel Radcliffe, Kirk Douglas, Tommy Hilfiger, soccer star Pele, Ivana Trump, country star Garth Brooks, former Irish President Mary McAleese; of course, baseball legends such as Joe DiMaggio; the signed speech that former Irish Prime Minister (Taoiseach) Bertie Ahern gave to the joint US Houses of Congress, as well as a sliotar signed by our very own favorite fiery redhead, Maureen O’Hara.
The set seems complete.
There is a certain Vatican-shaped hole lying in the rows and rows of signed baseballs, however, as the bar vies for the signature of none other than the head of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis, when he visits the Big Apple at the end of September.
In return for a ball signed by the Pope, Cavan-born owner Shaun Clancy is willing to give 1,000 meals to the homeless through St. Francis of Assisi Church, the saint the current Pope chose to honor when assigning his official Papal name.
“I have there a couple of million dollars worth of stuff on the walls here, but one of the pieces I'm most proud of is not sports-related,” Shaun tells IrishCentral.
“I have a Papal blessing from John Paul II personalized to me.”
The bar has a history of helping those less fortunate in their area, raising over $400,000 for charity in the 11 years they’ve been at 33rd street as a baseball-fan favorite.
“I do a lot of work for charity and I'm very proud of what we've been able to do for charity,” Shaun says.
“We do a lot of stuff with St. Francis of Assisi which is a church just a few blocks from here because my good friend Fr. Pat Fitzgerald, he passed away last year, he was pastor of St. Francis of Assisi, that's why I chose them.
“I help these guys out as it is; I donate meals at Christmas, Fr. Pat's birthday day is St. Patrick's day so every St. Patrick's day, I donate meals in his honor as well.”
And even if the Pope doesn’t get to add to the already astounding collection, Foley’s, the bar that previously won worldwide headlines by implementing a “Danny Boy” ban between 2008 and 2010, is more than willing to forgive and forget and continue with their charitable habits.
“If he decides, or if his people decide, we're not doing this, I'm still going to make the donation to the charity,” he reveals.
Pope Francis will make his first visit to New York between September 24 and 26, as part of his US tour. His flying visit to the city will include mass in Madison Square Garden, a papal motorcade through Central Park, a multi-religious service at the 9/11 Memorial and an address to the United Nations General Assembly.
Excitement is already starting to build throughout the city, especially in areas such as East Harlem where Pope Francis will be making a special school visit, and Foley’s is putting on a special Papal menu just in case he finds himself in their neck of the woods.
“He's the head of the Catholic Church and it's been much maligned, and there's a lot of stuff that's going on … but he is who he is,” Shaun continues, before recalling the last time he witnessed a city celebrating a Papal visit: Pope John Paul II on his massive trip to Ireland.
“The one baseball I've always wanted but I've never been able to get is a baseball signed by Pope John Paul II,” he admits.
“I remember as a nine-year-old old kid getting up at 4 o'clock in the morning, taking a train, staying in by uncle's house, and taking a train to get to the Phoenix Park when he came to Ireland.
“Being there with a million and a half people in the Phoenix Park and we ate lunch as mass was going on because it went on so long!”
And if he got the chance to meet the head of the Catholic Church before setting up his baseball in Papal place behind the bar?
“I'm not sure we have exactly a lot of common ground, but I've never been shy once it comes to talking so I think I'd find something to take about.”
“Whether he signs the ball for me or not, I figured there's no harm in asking, or at least putting it out there. If it's not gonna happen, it's not gonna happen.”
Can you help Foley’s in their quest to get a signed baseball from Pope Francis in return for 1,000 meals for the homeless? Get in contact!