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Irish Tosa roots run deep for Foley family

St. Jude a hub of ethnic heritage

March 14, 2012

St. Jude the Apostle Parish has long served as the unofficial headquarters for Tosa's Irish community.

Judge Christopher Foley's grandfather, Leander, donated the land on which the church and school were built. At a time when parishes were typically organized based on ethnicity, the church and school "was founded for Irish kids to have a place to learn," Foley said.

He can rattle off a list of Irish surnames that counted among the congregation.

"It was a very Irish enclave," he said. "Some of that still exists."

Foley believes safety concerns also played into the gift. Foley's father and aunt attended St. Bernard's School, which required crossing the railroad tracks.

"Grandpa became very motivated to get a Catholic parish closer to home," he said.

Leander was a wealthy physician who had invested significantly in local real estate.

"The way he described it, he owned half of Wauwatosa," the judge said.

He and the brother of his wife, Marguerite Jennings, were business partners when it came to property venture. The name is prevalent in Wauwatosa.

People who look closely at the top of the sign at the commercial center on 76th Street that now includes Blue's Egg restaurant will notice it says "Jennings Village." The property is still in the family, as is the property across the street, where Papa Murphy's Pizza and Subway operate.

The Jennings Park neighborhood near Bluemound Road and Honey Creek Parkway also is named for the family. Leander gave five homesteads to his children in Wauwatosa, including Foley's parents, in that neighborhood.

The family soon grew to 29 Foley and McGinn first cousins.

"They all lived within a stone's throw of St. Jude's Parish," Foley said.

His uncles David and Bill and Aunt Patty all still live in Tosa, but not in their original homes. At least a dozen cousins also settled in the city as adults.

Foley and wife Deb continued the tradition of a large Catholic family with children Rebecca, 28; Chris Jr., 26; Patrick, 22; Kevin, 21; Sean, 19; Donald, 15; and Benjamin, 12; who have all attended Christ King Parish near their west side home.

His kids are interested in their family history and heritage, which Foley attributes in part to the influence of religion on the lives. The "devout Catholics" look forward to attending the annual Irish Fest mass together.

Daughter Rebecca studied in Ireland for a semester, so his father took the opportunity to visit and that experience not only stuck with him but further fueled his interest in his heritage.

"I really feel as if there is some sort of rebirth of that idea, that need to know who I am and where I came from," he said.

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