It has been the question on the tip of the tongue for every person who calls the Diocese of Wilmington their workplace and so many others among the faithful who share love and admiration for their shepherd.
“How is the bishop doing?” was the common refrain.
Parishioners, co-workers, friends and family learned in late January that longtime Bishop W. Francis Malooly had been hospitalized and was awaiting cardiac bypass surgery. The senior-most active bishop leading a diocese in the United States had just turned 77 and his doctors deemed the surgery necessary.
News came at the end of the month that surgery had been successfully completed and doctors were pleased with the results. The bishop was released Feb. 2 and returned to his home in Wilmington where he has been recuperating ever since.
“I’m grateful for all the prayers from so many parishioners in the diocese here and beyond,” the bishop said in a March 3 telephone interview with The Dialog. “I’m convinced that healthcare and prayer very much go hand-in-hand.”
Practical aspects of living by yourself are magnified when a person is recovering from a hospital stay and expected to take a slow-and-careful approach to getting back on your feet.
What’s a cleric to do?
As the oldest of four siblings, the bishop has two surviving brothers. So, when his brother, Jardy, and sister-in-law, Leslie, suggested they would leave their home in the Baltimore archdiocese for an extended stay in the Wilmington area, the bishop agreed. He said their schedules enabled it because Jardy is retired.
“Everybody in my family is retired, except me,” the bishop observed with a chuckle.
Accustomed to doing everything for himself, the bishop said his recovery wouldn’t have been the same without them.
“They stayed with me for two weeks and looking back on that, I would not have survived without their support,” the bishop said.
He said Leslie quickly determined that his kitchen was filled with classic no-no’s for a heart patient – sugar, salt and fat. Those quickly became replaced by fruit, veggies and entrees that are user-friendly for a heart patient.
“It was really very helpful to have them here, because I guess the first three or four weeks, I was kind of lethargic. We’ve always been a close family. It was very nice from that point of view.”
About four weeks from the surgery, Bishop Malooly said he became more energized and was doing more walking and light work on an exercise bike. His family was able to return home after a couple of weeks. In addition, the bishop has had in-home services from visiting nurses from St. Francis home healthcare since he arrived home from the hospital.
“I feel very good and I just couldn’t emphasize more how very good the prayers are,” Bishop Malooly said. “I had complete confidence in the physicians and nurses, many of whom I knew, so there was never a question of that.”
The bishop’s 77th birthday was Jan. 18. He submitted his resignation to Pope Francis two years ago. Bishops are required to provide a resignation letter to the pontiff upon their 75th birthday. The pope has not yet accepted the resignation.
Bishop Malooly was installed as the ninth bishop of the Diocese of Wilmington on Sept. 8, 2008. He is a Baltimore native and was ordained an auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of Baltimore on March 1, 2001.
The bishop has not yet made a return to the altar, but he has put some milestones out there for himself that would begin just before Easter.
The Chrism Mass, closed to the public but livestreamed on the diocese YouTube channel from the Cathedral of St. Peter in Wilmington on Holy Thursday, could be an event where the bishop makes his return. He said he’ll talk with doctors and get a sense of how they’d like to go with his plans.
“I’d like to celebrate Holy Week at the Cathedral … not everything, but we’ll see how it goes,” the bishop said.
Bishop Malooly is happy to ease back into responsibilities, but says he knows the work of the diocese is getting done.
“Msgr. (Steven) Hurley is our vicar general and he runs the diocese, that’s what a vicar general does, and I know how well he does it.”
In the meantime, Bishop Malooly can figure on retirement in his future, but he can offer no idea of when Pope Francis will name his replacement.
“We’ll just wait and see, but that’s out of my ballpark,” the bishop said.