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Bishop-elect Malone shares memories, legacy in Arkansas

Fellow priests, beloved parishioners impacted his ministry in the Diocese of Little Rock

Published: January 27, 2020   
Bob Ocken
Bishop-elect Francis I. Malone is preparing for his episcopal ordination, Tuesday, Jan. 28, when he will become the third Bishop of Shreveport.

When a priest has had a major impact on parishes across the diocese as well as ministry on the diocesan level, his appointment as a bishop to another diocese leaves a hole that will be hard to fill. Arkansas Catholic interviewed Bishop-elect Francis I. Malone Dec. 18 and asked him to reflect on his 42 years of ministry in the diocese and the first tasks he will undertake as bishop of the Diocese of Shreveport.


Take us back to when you got the call about the pope appointing you as the next bishop. When was it and what were your first thoughts?

I had a noon Mass (Nov. 12) for our senior citizens and I went back to the vesting sacristy … and there was a message on my phone. I listened to the message. “Msgr. Malone, this is (Archbishop)Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio. I have something I want to discuss with you. Please return my call.” I shut the door and sat there, caught my breath and called him. He said, “Thank you for calling. Are you alone? I have something I need to discuss with you. Perhaps you can guess why I am calling.” He says, “The Holy Father has chosen you to be the bishop of Shreveport.” There is silence because you know you aren’t expecting the call. Then he says, “How does that make you feel?” I said, “Well, it makes me a little anxious.” He said, “Don’t worry about that. You will get over that. You will be fine. Now you need to call your bishop.” … Then he says, “Do you accept?” I paused and said, “Yes, I accept.” … I went back into the church and spent some time in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament.

“The administrator part of being a bishop doesn’t frighten me or scare me. What gets to me more than anything else is the emotional separation from people you have ministered to for so long.” Bishop-elect Francis I. Malone

I wanted to make the announcement sooner than later, because how can you keep it to yourself and you can’t tell anyone at all. Thank God I had Bishop Taylor to visit with.


What was the reaction of your family?

The announcement comes out (Nov. 19) at noon in Rome or 6 a.m. where my family is (in Philadelphia). I started calling them at 6:15 a.m. There are eight of us now. Their reactions were all exuberant and happy. My sisters were crying on the phone. Everyone is shocked, but they are very pleased. … I am anticipating 15-20 relatives will be able to come (to the ordination).


• We know that your late uncle, Msgr. Bernard Malone, was very important to you. What do you think his reaction would have been?

I think he had something to do with this. And my sister (who died Nov. 15) and my parents. I know he was spiritually present at that moment, but you wish he could have been physically present because he was so supportive of me. I never knew life without him. He was ordained before I was born. I miss him terribly. I would have never come to Arkansas if it wasn’t for him.


You have spent nearly 19 years at Christ the King. What do you hope your legacy will be?

I have said so many times that my time as a pastor here was a time that I stood on the shoulders of Msgr. (Gaston) Hebert. I know very few priests as fine as Msgr. Hebert. He has been a mentor and friend to me. … When I arrived here in 2001 there were no controversies or fires going on … My legacy will be that I had certain convictions about vocations and perpetual adoration... We started a Sunday night Mass … We moved the tabernacle back into the main church. … We started a pre-K program … We started perpetual adoration within another year. After it got going, it has gone well for 16 years.

I was convinced that the establishment of perpetual adoration would lead to vocations. We had none in the history of the church. Within six months we had our first vocation, Father Andrew Hart. As time went on, the numbers increased. At one time we had 11 men in the seminary. We have had six of the men ordained to the priesthood.

An interesting thing happened this year. The people who facilitate perpetual adoration told me that some of the hours they didn’t have the three or four adorers each hour that they had before. We also noticed that we weren’t getting any more vocations. The last vocation we had to sign up was Daniel Wendel (in 2014).

I told the parishioners this can’t be coincidental. I asked people to sign up again and we signed up 93 new adorers. And within six months we got another vocation. That was Christopher Elser. We are hoping in another few months to add another seminarian. … Anyone can build buildings. You establish the need, you get the support, you get the money and you build the buildings. That’s it. But it’s the spiritual dimension of the parish where you see the most growth. … All our teachers are Catholic, they are active members of the parish. We have Little Rock Scripture Study … Walking with Purpose, Men of Faith. The parish has grown tremendously spiritually. … This spring we will have two families who only had two sons and both will be priests of the diocese. We have another family where one son is already a priest and one son is in the seminary.


Was there a parish assignment that was challenging for you?

Bishop McDonald asked me to move to Immaculate Conception in North Little Rock. I asked him a couple of times, “Tell me why you are moving me there. Everything was fine at the Cathedral.” He said, “I want you to build a church.” I went over there and built it within two years. It was not an easy assignment, mostly because I was following this incredible priest, Msgr. (John) O’Donnell who moved to Fort Smith after the sudden death of Msgr. (William) Galvin. Msgr. O’Donnell had no peer, he had no equal. He was a phenomenal homilist. I had known him since I was 7 years old. … No one could have followed him. I tried to and I made a lot of mistakes. After three years I felt more support from the people.


You were ordained by Bishop Andrew J. McDonald. What did you learn from him?

Bishop McDonald became my bishop when I was a junior in college. He was very young. He gave us a new vision of Church. He brought the diocese into the post-Vatican II time … He had a knack for knowing what he wanted and who could do the job. He also gave these individuals the latitude to do their various ministries. He was very active in the pro-life movement. Most of the time I worked with him was in the tribunal and church administration. By the second year working with him, I was made the chancellor for the diocese. He and I became good collaborators. He entrusted me with some pretty heavy responsibilities. 


Looking now to your new appointment, will anyone from Arkansas have a role in your ordination?

Bishop Taylor and Bishop (Michael) Duca (former Shreveport bishop) will be co-consecrators. … All of the deacons presently assigned to Christ the King will have some function in the ordination ceremony. I have chosen four (altar) servers, young children to serve from the parish.


What are your feelings as you prepare to move to Shreveport?

This is the bittersweet part of moving to Shreveport. I am excited about the challenges. I have been in diocesan administration for so long. The administrator part of being a bishop doesn’t frighten me or scare me. What gets to me more than anything else is the emotional separation from people you have ministered to for so long. And the memories of those who have passed on and who had a big impact on my ministry here.


You mentioned at your press conference Nov. 19 that you won’t have many years as a bishop since you will have to submit your retirement at age 75. You said you want to get to work quickly. What does that mean to you?

I want to meet the priests. You want to be able to put together a name and a face. I want to know who my staff members are, who my closest collaborators are on the diocesan level. These are the ones who I will depend to do the work that needs to get done. I have no ambition to change the diocese that is not on fire and there are no major problems, or sexual abuse issues … They are very rural. As a young kid from Philadelphia, that is how I was introduced to Arkansas by living in the Delta. I was living among the farmers … It will be a lot of driving. There will be a lot of communities with 100 people or 50 people. I am looking forward to that. There is a special feel when you go into their communities. People who sacrificed so much to keep their parish going.


I assume since you will be pretty close to Arkansas you won’t be a complete stranger.

It is only three hours (driving). If I need to come back, certainly for Joseph Friend’s ordination. If something were to happen, certainly a priest funeral, if I have the time, then I will make the trip back. 

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