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Only two other Arkansas priests ordained bishops before

Msgr. Francis I. Malone is only third to ever be appointed to bishop from the state

Published: November 22, 2019   
Arkansas Catholic file photos
Bishop Albert J. Fletcher (left) and Bishop Lawrence Graves were the first two priests from Arkansas to become bishops.

Bishop-elect Francis I. Malone is only the third Arkansas priest to be elevated to the office of bishop. Two others were ordained priests for the Diocese of Little Rock, both originally as auxiliary bishops who later led a diocese.

Bishop Albert J. Fletcher holds the dual distinction of being the first native-born Arkansan to hold the office and the only Arkansas native son to lead the Diocese of Little Rock. Bishop Fletcher, who was born Oct. 28, 1896, in Little Rock, split his childhood between Paris and Tontitown. He entered Little Rock College in 1912 and then St. John Seminary in Little Rock.

Bishop Fletcher was ordained to the priesthood June 4, 1920, by Bishop John B. Morris, who would later hand-pick him as successor. At Bishop Morris’ urging, the Vatican assigned Msgr. Fletcher as auxiliary bishop for the Diocese of Little Rock in April 1940. He was installed as the fourth bishop of Little Rock Feb. 11, 1947. Bishop Fletcher served his home diocese in this capacity until 1972 and died Dec. 6, 1979 in Little Rock.

Bishop Lawrence Graves was born in Texarkana and also attended St. John Seminary in Little Rock as well as the Pontifical North American College in Rome and Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. He was ordained to the priesthood June 11, 1942. In February 1969, Father Graves was appointed auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Little Rock. He received his episcopal consecration April 25, 1970, from Bishop Fletcher.

In 1973, Bishop Graves was named bishop of Alexandria, La. Under his guidance, the diocese established or improved several operations continuing education for priests, offices for religious education and youth ministry, a permanent diaconate program and the communications apostolate in newspaper, radio and television. The name of the diocese was also changed on his watch, to the Diocese of Alexandria-Shreveport in 1976. Bishop Graves resigned as bishop July 20, 1982, and died Jan. 15, 1994.

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