Msgr. Francis I. Malone, who has served as pastor of Christ the King Church in Little Rock for 18 years, was appointed by Pope Francis Nov. 19 to become the third bishop of the Diocese of Shreveport, La. He will be ordained and installed as bishop at 2 p.m., Tuesday, Jan. 28 at the Cathedral of St. John Berchmans in Shreveport.
In addition to being a pastor, Bishop-elect Malone is also the chancellor for ecclesial affairs and adjutant judicial vicar of the tribunal for the Diocese of Little Rock. He is succeeding Bishop Michael G. Duca, who was installed to the Diocese of Baton Rouge, La., in 2018.
At a Nov. 19 press conference at the offices of the Diocese of Shreveport, Msgr. Malone said his history with Bishop Duca goes back 50 years, as they were students together. Bishop Duca served as a deacon during his priestly ordination.
Bishop-elect Malone answered questions about his experience promoting vocations, Hispanic ministry, Catholic schools and to explain how big of a deal it is to be named bishop and, directly, “How big a deal are you?”
“I’m a big shot,” he smiled, joking with reporters and diocesan staff before explaining what it truly means to be a bishop.
“It’s a tremendously humbling experience to be asked to be a bishop. No one should aspire to this office. It is a very, very difficult responsibility. I’ve been so blessed to work with three bishops,” Msgr. Malone said, pointing to his work with the late Bishop Andrew J. McDonald, retired Archbishop J. Peter Sartain and Bishop Anthony B. Taylor.
“What I learned is how quickly they became, assumed the role of being a spiritual father for the community entrusted to their care. So that’s been uppermost in my mind.”
A native of Philadelphia, one of nine children, he was ordained a priest by Bishop McDonald May 21, 1977. He has pastored and taught at a variety of schools, including Immaculate Conception School in North Little Rock and Mount St. Mary Academy in Little Rock and served as vice rector at Holy Trinity Seminary in Irving, Texas, mentoring seminarians. He served as rector of the Cathedral of St. Andrew for seven years, helping to develop and cultivate the RCIA program and adult faith formation.
Then-Msgr. Malone became pastor of Christ the King Church in Little Rock in 2001, following in the footsteps of Msgr. J. Gaston Hebert, who had been there 20 years.
“My first goal is how can I best be a spiritual father to you? And how can we work together to bring about the kingdom in the lives of people who need it the most?” Bishop-elect Malone said.
Patty Barnett, pastoral secretary and administrative assistant to Bishop-elect Malone, has worked with him for almost 17 years.
“I was surprised, kind of shocked really and happy at the same time for him,” she told Arkansas Catholic. “Sad because we’re going to miss him here; he’s a wonderful leader, but happy he’s entrusted with the care of another diocese. They obviously find he’s skilled enough to do this and that makes me proud of him.”
The support and trust she received from him as a boss is a unique quality that she will miss. Teri Tribby, parish life and outreach director at Christ the King, said the Shreveport diocese couldn’t have asked for a “better all-around mentor” and the growth that the church and school have experienced are related to his work, including being a tithing parish.
“He would always tell us, ‘Do you want the good news or the bad news?’ What’s the bad news? He’d tell us and we’d say, ‘What’s the good news?’ ‘Jesus loves you.’ It was always the good news,” Tribby said.
At the press conference, diocesan administrator Father Peter Mangum said he has “bottled up this joy for an entire week” ahead of the official announcement.
“I know Thanksgiving Day is next week, but it feels like Thanksgiving Day has come early in Shreveport,” he said.
Bishop Taylor traveled to Louisiana to introduce Bishop-elect Malone, saying he has been “one of my closest advisers,” since he became bishop of the Diocese of Little Rock in 2008.
“It’s a great joy that I come here to introduce you to Msgr. Malone but also sadness at our loss, but we’re all one Church ... All the details of his life point to coming to Shreveport eventually to be your bishop,” he said, pointing to Bishop-elect Malone’s experience pastoring rural and mission parishes as well as a large parish like Christ the King. He spoke of his constant dedication to Catholic schools, ministering to senior priests, faithfulness to Church teaching and his “excellent” abilities to preach the word of God through his homilies.
“You’re just getting a real great treasure. He is going to be very hard for me to replace in Little Rock, which is a good sign for you because you’re getting a bishop with a full range of experience in the life of the Church and the life of the diocese,” Bishop Taylor said.
Bishop-elect Malone began the press conference asking for prayers — not for this new role, but for his family as they grieve the loss of his oldest sister Maureen G. Malone, who died Nov. 15. His devotion to his family and family in faith was made clear throughout the press conference. He wore a pectoral cross, found in the belongings of his late uncle Msgr. Bernard Malone, that had been worn by his great-aunt Sister Margaret Mary, of the Sisters of the Sacred Heart. Initials on the cross stand for “one heart, one soul and a heart of Jesus.”
“It also carries with it the history, my family history of people who were dedicated to the Lord and dedicated to the Church,” Bishop-elect Malone said.
While his experience points to his ability to become a bishop, he admitted to his “shortcomings and weaknesses that have always brought me closer to the embrace of the Lord’s grace and mercy.”
He encouraged the faithful that after his ordination as bishop in January “we hit the ground running,” but never losing sight of the Lord’s guidance.
“We will do this without impatient haste or careless abandon, but steady and prayerful, keeping our eyes and our hearts fixed on Jesus,” Bishop-elect Malone said, who turned 69 Sept. 1.
He explained the direct correlation of perpetual adoration, which he started at Christ the King, to fostering religious vocations. Within six months of starting perpetual adoration, now-Father Andrew Hart joined the seminary and at one point, there were 11 seminarians from Christ the King, Bishop-elect Malone said.
“They’re my sons,” he said, emphasizing that he was blessed to have his uncle Msgr. Malone, who died July 19, 2017, to be a powerful witness of what a loving priesthood should be.
Sister Carol Shively, OSU, superintendent of Catholic schools in the Shreveport diocese, pointed to the six schools the diocese oversees. Bishop-elect Malone emphasized his dedication and love for schools, saying that pastors should be involved in all aspects of school life, Mass should be celebrated for the children and to always be in contact with the principal, administration and teachers. In 2015, he received the National Catholic Educational Association Distinguished Pastor Award.
Christ the King School principal Kathy House, who has known Msgr. Malone for 39 years and worked with him the past 18 years, said he called her at 5 a.m. to let her know he was named bishop and would be moving. She and assistant principal Paige Coppola “made a pact” to not cry, she said, as she’s encountered many parents in tears dropping off their children on Tuesday.
“I think he’ll be amazing,” calling him a “double blessing” for their diocese and school system.
Deacon Matthew Glover, who serves at Christ the King Church and as the diocesan chancellor for canonical affairs, said in an email to Arkansas Catholic that Msgr. Malone is “more than just a pastor to me.”
“He has been a mentor, a spiritual father, a good friend,” he wrote. “His priesthood has brought me closer to Jesus Christ and his Church, and his leadership and listening ear have been indispensable for me in my work for the diocese.
“On a personal level, he is the only pastor that my kids have ever known. When we told them this morning, they cried — and I know they aren’t the only ones. But our sadness is an indication of the depth of our love for him, and of his love for all those whom he shepherds. Our loss is most certainly the Diocese of Shreveport’s great gain.”
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