Obituary: The Rev. John ‘Jack’ Folmer, 71, served in Northern California as a priest, lawyer, teacher

The Rev. John “Jack” Folmer, an intellectual Catholic who served the church as a compassionate priest, lawyer and educator, died Oct. 10 following a recent stroke. He was 71.

A Sacramento native who swept floors at Mercy General Hospital as a boy, the Rev. Folmer was a scholar who dedicated himself to helping others. He was ordained in the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament in 1969 after graduating from St. Patrick’s Seminary in Menlo Park and studying at University of Tübingen in Germany under theologian Joseph Ratzinger, who later became Pope Benedict XVI.

He earned a doctorate in canon law from Catholic University of America in Washington and a law degree from UC Davis.

“He was very bright all the way and had an amazingly curious mind,” said the Rev. Patrick Foley, a longtime friend. “He could hold forth on any number of subjects – from films to railroads to cooking to vast periods of history. He was a fascinating person to have a conversation with or just listen to.”

The Rev. Folmer spent most of his ministry in Northern California, including 30 years as a canon lawyer on church tribunals in the Archdiocese of San Francisco and the dioceses of Sacramento and Monterey. He also belonged to the California State Bar and successfully defended the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in a suit brought by relatives of a woman who had left her estate to the organization in San Francisco, said his cousin Deborah Doyle.

He assisted frequently as a priest at parishes in Fairfield, Vallejo, San Francisco, Davis and Sacramento. He was a former rector of Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament and retired several years ago as parochial vicar at St. Mel’s Church in Fair Oaks. He taught at Christian Brothers High School in Sacramento and was a chaplain from 1999 to 2005 at St. Francis High School in Sacramento.

“Jack was never a pastor in the sense of being a pastor at a church, but he was always pastoral in his approach to serving people,” Foley said. “If someone came to him with a problem, he was very attentive and compassionate. His concern was never the law or a regulation or institution; it was always, ‘What does this person need?’”

The only child of a registered nurse and a civilian Air Force employee, John Joseph Folmer was born June 15, 1942. He attended Sacred Heart School and graduated from St. Pius X Seminary in Humboldt County.

A brilliant student who read Greek and Latin, he studied as a priest at the Vatican and at Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley. He taught canon law at St. Patrick’s Seminary and spent two years with the Sulpicians, a group of priests dedicated to teaching future priests. In 1985, he was named president of the Canon Law Society of America.

The Rev. Folmer lived in his family home in Sacramento and volunteered at local parishes and schools in retirement. He loved to read and owned a large library of books on many subjects.

“He has a huge collection of cookbooks,” Doyle said. “When he was at St. Francis, he was the school adviser for the girls’ cooking club. He used that as an excuse to get more cooking materials.”

A funeral Mass was held Wednesday. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Mercy Foundation, 3400 Data Drive, Rancho Cordova, CA 95670; or to Sacramento Public Library Foundation, P.O. Box 1168, Sacramento, CA 95812.