Matt Foley, the famous motivational speaker who ‘lived in a van down by the river!’ made his SNL debut in 1993.

But did you know the real Matt Foley, who the character is based on, was Chris Farley’s longtime friend and a Catholic priest?

In real life, Matt Foley has brought Faith to all parts of the world. He spent six years at a mission in Mexico, eight years in Chicago’s Little Village, and he did four tours of duty in Afghanistan as an Army chaplain before becoming head pastor of Saint James Catholic Church in Arlington Heights, Illinois in 2013.

Matt Foley first met Farley nearly 40 years ago playing rugby at Marquette University.

“We played rugby together. He was a good rugby player. He hustled his tail off. He was a big guy and very agile.”

Foley, student-leader of the Rugby club, said his pregame speeches inspired Farley’s material on SNL.

“Chris developed that Matt Foley character at Second City, so I was there the first night he used my name – and I knew he was going to try to bring it to Saturday Night Live – so I was very very honored, and blushing all the time whenever he did the skit.”

Early renditions of the character used other names, but when the real Matt Foley went to the show and had his name used, Farley felt the name best suited the character and refused to change it.

Foley said Farley was “very religious,” attending Mass daily in college and continuing to ask him for spiritual guidance as he struggled with a “brutal” addiction later in life.

“He was very much aware of his struggle, but I think he was a good Catholic in practice because he recognized God’s saving grace.” 

Their close friendship continued over the years. Backstage visits to SNL, phone calls to Mexico, celebrations of Farley’s sobriety dates, and sadly presiding over his funeral on a cold Wisconsin day in December of 1997.

“People think about burying a celebrity, but the reality is you’re burying someone’s brother, someone’s friend, someone’s son. That is very painful. It was a very sad day. I think about him a lot. He was a very good friend. You think about growing old with somebody, but at 33 his life was ended. He’s missed so many good things.”

Once a year, Foley visits Farley’s grave and celebrates Mass at the Resurrection Cemetery chapel with his family.

“Most of us, we’re much more complex than people portray us to be. There’s the public persona and then there’s the person you know as a family member and a friend. Chris was that character people think he was, but he was not that character all the time. He would do anything to make you laugh, but then there was a real serious side of him. He also had a reflective side, a spiritual side and a very caring side.”

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