Know Your Neighbors: Bishop Malloy

He finds joy in the spiritual life as the leader of the Catholic Diocese of Rockford.

Bishop Malloy speaks English, Italian, Spanish and some French. (Samantha Behling photo)

Bishop David J. Malloy, the ninth bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Rockford, has a colorful story of arriving in our region.

Born and raised in the Milwaukee area, Malloy grew up entrenched in the Catholic faith. His parents, David and Mary Malloy, led a consistent lifestyle of attending Mass each morning and confession each month. They encouraged their six children to do the same.

“My parents made it a practice that after we’d receive our first communion, we’d get up early enough every day to run the block and a half down the street to go to Mass,” Malloy recalls. “It was a very sacramental, religious upbringing, and in this day and age, that approach might almost sound oppressive. But it wasn’t. It was the family routine and the family commitment to our Catholic faith. I’m grateful to God for the gift that it was.”

For eight years, Malloy received a Catholic education from Christ King Grade School in Wauwatosa, Wis., before transitioning to the public Wauwatosa East High School. Upon graduating in 1974, Malloy thought about following in his father’s footsteps by becoming a doctor.

“I actually have a lot of medical roots in my family – a number of my uncles on both sides were doctors, and my mother was a nurse,” Malloy says. “I remember vacations being delayed because some sort of medical issue would come up for somebody that my father had to attend to. I saw it as concern for the human person – it was charitable. I thought that was what I wanted to do with my life.”

So, Malloy went to Marquette University, in Milwaukee, and graduated in 1978 with a bachelor’s degree in biology. Medical school was on the horizon, but other pursuits were also at the front of his mind.

“I had this other nagging inclination from going to Mass, and from going to Eucharistic adoration, and from going to confession,” Malloy says. “It just kept growing.”

Malloy decided to defer medical school for a year and go into the seminary instead. Once he was there, his vocation to become a priest became clear.

“I just had a sense that for all the challenges and difficulties and ups and downs, this is where God wanted me to be,” he says. “I think that’s how a lot of discernment goes. You try to let the Lord show you where he wants you to be.”

Malloy studied for one year at St. Francis de Sales Seminary in Milwaukee, followed by five years at the Gregorian University in Rome, where he received advanced degrees in theology. His daily routine was centered around “good habits” such as prayer and Mass in the morning, philosophy and religion classes in the afternoon, and, as his education progressed, practical experiences such as learning how to administer the sacraments.

In 1983, Malloy was ordained into the priesthood by Archbishop Rembert Weakland. The ceremony took place at his home parish in Wauwatosa.

“It was a very important day,” Malloy recalls. “I still look at those pictures with Archbishop Weakland standing in front of me and imposing hands on me at the moment of ordination, and seeing the picture of my family afterward, and just recognizing what a gift of a day it was for me.”

Given that he went into the diocesan priesthood (as opposed to being a religious order priest), Malloy’s hope was to be able to serve in a parish community. He did so for two years as the associate pastor of St. John Nepomuk Church in Racine, Wis.

But one day, he got a phone call, asking if he’d go back to Rome. “In most cases, you have to be appointed to have further studies,” Malloy explains. “So, it wasn’t so much that I decided to continue my studies, it was actually that others had decided that I might have certain abilities or gifts that could fit a certain role within the church.”

So, from 1986 to 1990, Malloy attended the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy in Rome where he received a degree in canon law from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas-Angelicum and a doctorate in sacred theology from the Gregorian University.

These studies prepared him for a role with the Vatican Diplomatic Service.

“I was in the apostolic nunciature, which is like the Vatican embassy,” Malloy explains. This led him to work in Pakistan from 1990-1994, and in Syria in 1995.

“So, my task was diplomacy relations between the Vatican, the government and the local churches – both informing the Vatican about what’s going on, but also informing the local churches of the decisions of the Vatican, and so on,” Malloy explains.

In both Pakistan and Syria, Christians in general were a minority of the population. One of Malloy’s tasks was to indicate to Catholics that they were known, supported and loved by the Pope and by the wider church.

“It gave me a stronger, deeper view about religious liberty,” he says. “Seeing, for example, in Pakistan, where there was a lot of poverty and the literacy rate among Christians was very low. So, people were trying to learn the faith, often in an oral transmission manner. You begin to realize how people can prize their religious freedom and be very willing to sacrifice a great deal to live it out in a very hostile environment. It’s quite sobering, and in some ways, it’s quite uplifting.”

From 1995-1998, Malloy continued his diplomatic service by working at the United Nations as the secretary to the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See, in New York.

After that, he returned to Rome and served for two and a half years in the Vatican’s prefecture of the Papal Household, during which time he helped to manage the organizational aspects of Pope John Paul II’s activities, including helping to plan events throughout the Great Jubilee Year of 2000.

“It was quite moving to see all of the crowds and pilgrimages coming through Rome,” Malloy recalls of the Jubilee year – a major event in the Catholic Church. “It was a celebration of 2,000 years of the faith and the meaning of that for the world.”

In 2001, Malloy was appointed to be one of the associate general secretaries of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), and from 2006-2011, he served as the general secretary. While working for the USCCB, Malloy helped bishops in the United States to coordinate amongst themselves, preach and communicate the faith properly, understand what the Holy See was up to, and a host of other responsibilities.
In 2011, after he completed his term with the USCCB, Malloy was assigned to be a pastor at St. Francis de Sales Church in Lake Geneva.

“I finally thought I was doing what I went into the priesthood to do, which was to be a parish priest,” Malloy reflects.

But, once again, he got a phone call.

“When a diocese becomes open by a bishop’s retirement or death, perhaps several, several names are proposed for the Holy Father [the Pope] to consider,” Malloy explains. “So, the long and short is, one afternoon, sitting in my office, the phone rang and the apostolic nuncio conveyed to me that the Holy Father had appointed me to become the Bishop of Rockford.”

After working for the USCCB, Malloy likely had a better idea than most people about both the joys and sorrows of being a bishop. But his outlook has always been to serve the Church to the best of his abilities, in whatever manner requested of him.

On Monday, May 14, 2012, Malloy was ordained and installed as the ninth bishop of Rockford. Among other things, being a bishop involves a combination of completing office work, performing religious ceremonies, and trying to integrate the faith of the universal church with the faith of the diocese.

Despite having lived in so many places around the world, Malloy admits he has always felt some degree of homesickness for the Midwest. So, being in Rockford is something he’s grateful for. At 64 years old, Malloy has 10 more years of serving as the bishop of the Rockford, after which, he’ll likely retire.

“Looking back, you were put in positions and you tried to do the best you could,” Malloy says. “I’d rather be looking forward, and, like Saint Paul, hoping that at the end of the race there’s a merited crown that awaits you for having done some good.”