Bishop W. Francis Malooly has spent four decades ministering to Roman Catholics in and around his native Baltimore. Now he is moving 70 miles north to take on his biggest job: leading the Diocese of Wilmington, Del.
Malooly, 64, was introduced to his new community at a news conference at a Wilmington church yesterday after his appointment by Pope Benedict XVI. Malooly will succeed Bishop Michael A. Saltarelli, who is retiring at the age of 75, as required by church law.
"It's just wonderful to have a new opportunity," Malooly said in a telephone interview yesterday. "I have wonderful memories in Baltimore and in my parishes, but I'll be close enough. I'll be in contact with them."
The bishop has two months left in Baltimore to prepare for his new post before his installation Sept. 8 by Archbishop Pietro Sambi, the papal nuncio or ambassador, and Archbishop Edwin F. O'Brien of Baltimore.
Both Malooly and O'Brien will continue to work together. As archbishop of Baltimore, O'Brien has limited authority over four dioceses, including Wilmington.
The Diocese of Wilmington has about 220,00 Catholics, half as many as in the Archdiocese of Baltimore, with 57 parishes in three Delaware counties as well as nine counties along Maryland's Eastern Shore. And it is building new churches, Malooly said.
"It's a healthy diocese," he said. "There are signs of a lot of growth on the Eastern Shore."
Malooly said he expects a smooth transition because he knows many of the priests in his new diocese from seminary. He has also worked with diocese staff through regional institutions such as Mount St. Mary's University and the Maryland Catholic Conference, a lobbying group that works with the Diocese of Wilmington and the Archdiocese of Washington, which also includes some Maryland counties.
"It's kind of like going from my winter home to my summer home," Malooly said.
Malooly spent most of his career close to home. He was born in Baltimore and attended St. Ursula's parish and school in Parkville before finishing high school and undergraduate study at the former St. Charles College, a seminary in Catonsville. He then attended what is now known as St. Mary's Seminary and University in Roland Park and was ordained in 1970 by his uncle, Bishop T. Austin Murphy, at St. Ursula.
Malooly served as a parish priest at St. Joseph's in Cockeysville as well as St. Anthony of Padua in northeast Baltimore and ran a retreat house in Sparks before he moved to an administrative post in the Catholic Center, the Archdiocese of Baltimore's headquarters, in 1984.
He served as director of clergy personnel until 1989, when he was named chancellor and vicar general - essentially serving as chief executive officer of the archdiocese, overseeing its daily operations. Cardinal William H. Keeler ordained him as a bishop in 2001, simultaneously appointing him a vicar of the archdiocese's six western counties.
"He was very forthright, and I think he had everybody's respect," said Monsignor Art Valenzano, pastor of St. John's Church in Westminster. "There's no pretense about him. He certainly has earned and gets the respect of being a bishop, but he's never lost the credibility of being a man that's worked in the trenches with the rest of us."
The administrative posts put Malooly in the public eye as allegations of abuse by priests surfaced in the 1990s. Malooly presided at meetings with parishioners to inform them of allegations against clergy. Victims were instructed to contact him as the chancellor of the archdiocese, according to news reports.
"There's nothing you can do to make up for the damage that was done. You just try to reach out," he said yesterday.
Michael Batza, a lay Catholic, served on several boards of Catholic institutions with Malooly - known to friends as "Father Fran." Batza called the bishop "a terrific priest and a terrific individual."
"He never forgets a face and a name and always goes out of his way to remember family members," Batza said. "He's a very sensitive individual."