Cardinal John P. Foley, a former Philadelphia priest who became head of the Vatican’s public information office and who for 25 years was the voice for American viewers of the Vatican’s Christmas midnight Mass, died Dec. 11 in Darby, Pa. He was 76.

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia reported his death. According to media reports, he had leukemia.

In 1984, Cardinal Foley was appointed to lead what is now known as the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, which spearheaded Vatican initiatives under the media-savvy Pope John Paul II to get out the Catholic Church’s message through the media.

In a world of prelates who were often ill at ease when speaking with journalists, or who used convoluted phrases to express a concept, Cardinal Foley distinguished himself with a down-to-earth, straightforward manner of engaging with the public.

The Rev. Federico Lombardi, a Vatican spokesman, said on Vatican radio that Cardinal Foley “incarnated, in the best way, the friendly, open, attentive relationship, of the church in the world of social communications.”

For more than two decades, he narrated the broadcast in the United States of the Vatican’s Christmas midnight Mass.

In 2007, Pope Benedict XVI named Cardinal Foley the grand master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem. The order supports schools and health institutions and serves basic needs for the poorest people of all faiths in the region.

John Patrick Foley was born Nov. 11, 1935, in Darby. From there, he went to St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, graduating in 1957, and then to seminary. He was ordained in 1962. He also earned a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University.

When he returned to Philadelphia in 1966, he was named assistant pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish and was part of the faculty at Cardinal Dougherty High School from 1967 to 1984.

Cardinal Foley served as the assistant editor and Vatican correspondent for Philadelphia’s archdiocesan newspaper, the Catholic Standard & Times, and was its editor-in-chief from 1970 to 1984.

Archbishop Edwin O’Brien, who replaced Cardinal Foley this year as leader of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, said Cardinal Foley was “has long been regarded as the patriarch of the American Catholic press.”

— Associated Press

Associated Press writer Frances D’Emilio in Rome contributed to this report.