Beloved in life for his broad smile and gregarious ways, the late Cardinal John P. Foley lay in state Thursday, uncharacteristically solemn, as hundreds of mourners made their way up the aisle to his bier in the chapel of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood.

A priest of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia who spent 27 years in Rome as a spokesman for the Vatican and grand master of a papal knighthood, Foley died Sunday at age 76 after a long bout with leukemia and anemia.

His open bronze casket, flanked by two seminarians, rested under the vaulted ceiling of the majestic St. Martin of Tours Chapel. He wore a pale gold miter, or bishop's hat, and pale gold vestments, with a rosary wrapped around his right hand. In his left was the silver badge of the grand master.

"He was the most humble man that ever walked," said Mary McGuinn of St. Cecilia's Parish in Fox Chase.

She patted Foley's hand before departing: "There should be more like him."

He also will lie in state from 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Friday at the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul. At 2 p.m., Archbishop Edwin O'Brien, the current grand master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, will celebrate a Funeral Mass at the basilica, after which Foley will be entombed in a crypt below the main altar.

Foley, who long edited the archdiocesan newspaper, graduated from St. Charles Borromeo in 1962 and later taught philosophy there.

Nearly all the visitors at Thursday's viewing spoke of Foley's informality, humor, and deep spirituality.

"He was a holy man," said Carol Farrell, who works in the development office at St. Joseph's University, "but never holier-than-thou."

His fine mind and outgoing ways were evident long before he became a priest, said Sister Elizabeth Gorvin, 91, his eighth-grade teacher at Holy Spirit School in Sharon Hill.

"He was always smiling," she said, "and a brilliant student." At his invitation, she traveled to Rome in 2007 when Pope Benedict XVI elevated him to cardinal.

From 1984 to 2007, Foley was president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, representing the church's social teachings to electronic media.

In 2007, he stepped down to become grand master of the order, whose members raise funds for the care of Christian sites in the Holy Land.

He retired to Philadelphia in February, complaining of weakness and fatigue.

Just over a month ago, on Foley's birthday, Nov. 11, Benedict wrote to him expressing his "deep gratitude for the many graces bestowed on the church through your priestly and episcopal ministry."

The letter was posted in the chapel vestibule.

Some visitors said they had known Foley only fleetingly. Ann Lowry, who worked many years as a server at the archdiocese's cafeteria, recalled that whenever he was visiting, "we would make him a big chocolate sundae."

A few said they had never met him, but thought so highly of him that they wanted to say farewell. "We used to always include him in our prayers after daily Mass," said Joan Marren, a member of St. Gabriel's Parish in Norwood. "So you could say we loved him from a distance."

But Msgr. Hans Brouwers, Foley's assistant for three years in Rome, said he had so many stories about his friend that he didn't know where to begin.

Typical, he recalled, was the time the two got caught in a thunderstorm in a little town outside Rome and took shelter in the alcove of an apartment building.

"We were laughing so hard about something that a little kid came to the door," he said. The family invited them in, "and we ended up watching The Terminator with them in Italian. We laughed about that all the way home."

Barbara Parks, a school crossing guard, had worked 19 years in the priests' dining room at the seminary, "when he was still a monsignor."

As she exited the chapel, she said, "I'm crying, but heaven is rejoicing."

Contact staff writer David O'Reilly at 215-854-5723