John A. Motley, O.S.A.

1885 – 1915 (March 7)

John Aloysius Motley, son of James Motley and Catherine Moore, was born on September 22, 1885, in the Village of Peely, Luz County, Pennsylvania, and baptized five days later, in the church of Saint Charles Borromeo, in the diocese of Scranton, Pa. As a young boy John worked as a coal breaker. At the age of fifteen his life took a dramatic turn when he attended a Mission preached by Father Michael Ryan, O.S.A., who counseled him to enter the seminary. After three years at Villanova Preparatory School, John began his novitiate on July 6, 1908. He professed first vows on July 7, 1909, and studied philosophy and theology in Rome, where he professed solemn vows on July 24, 1912. On July 29, 1914, he was ordained to the priesthood by the Cardinal Vicar of Rome, and celebrated his first Mass at the tomb of St. Monica in the Church of St. Augustine.

Six months before his ordination John became seriously ill with migraine headaches. After ordination, Father Motley returned to Villanova, Pa., and prepared to preach his first sermon at the start of a Lenten series at Saint Thomas of Villanova Parish. The pastor, Father Matthew Corcoran, O.S.A., suggested as the theme: “God’s Mercy Toward the Sinner,” and announced on Sunday before Ash Wednesday that the Lenten series would begin on Tuesday night. Later that same Sunday, March 7, 1915, Father John Motley died in St. Agnes Hospital, Philadelphia, while in surgery for an infected mastoid. When the parishioners arrived in church on Tuesday night, Father Motley’s body lay on a catafalque. Father Corcoran walked slowly to the altar rail at the time for the sermon. His voice, broken with sorrow, explained, ‘The priest who was appointed to preach to you this evening is he who lies dead before us. Not in the manner he had planned, but in a far more earnest manner, he is here preaching to you on the death of the Christian. Hear him.” Father John preached his first, his only sermon. He was thirty years of age.

Father John Motley was survived by his parents and many siblings. He was buried in the Community Cemetery at Villanova on March 10, 1915.