Mary Francis Malinoski

Mary Frances Malinoski

Mary Frances Malinoski

It was the Franciscan sisters who made Mary Frances Malinoski’s experience at USF so special. Now a lay educator of students from preschool to 8th grade, she is carrying on that legacy in northern Arizona.

The principal of San Francisco de Asis Catholic School in Flagstaff, Malinoski makes sure that “Catholic identity” speaks first and loudest, specifically the Franciscan ideals: evangelization through action, joy of the Gospel, and tolerance in diversity. And yes, there is also a soft spot for animals in the community.

“Father Pat, our pastor, loves the blessing of the animals,” she says. “Everybody in town comes. Any animal you can think of will be at our parish being blessed. We also make sure to have a mariachi band because of our large Hispanic population.”

Malinoski grew up in Joliet and graduated from USF in 1967 with a degree in history and education. It was an era full of civil rights struggles and changing social attitudes in the United States. Malinoski and her classmates participated fully in the dialogue, encouraged by the sisters they so looked up to.

“When you start out as a young person, you want to change the world,” Malinoski says. “It was the sisters who said, ‘Don’t just sit still and talk about it. You have to do something about it. It was an exciting time to be in college. We were active and we always tried to do things in a Christian way.”

So off they went, Malinoski and her friends, to a Baptist church in Joliet to listen to a speech about civil rights. Before it was over, rocks were flying and they were forced to run out the back door to their cars. Later, encouraged by USF instructors, Malinoski, some fellow students and a social worker decided to visit a migrant farm to see what that world was all about.

“When we got out of our cars we were met by three men with rifles, and they suggested that we move on,” Malinoski says. “You might have the passion but you also have to know how to approach things and how to make things better.”

She tries to do that now with smaller, quieter gestures, one student at a time. Her young students go on retreats, and participate in service projects that they create on their own. This year the project involved handing out water kits to the underserved members of the Flagstaff community. While the kids’ parents may actually distribute the kits, the children are the ones who conceived the idea and developed the content of the kits: bottled water, energy bars, some other nutritional items, and a prayer.

Malinoski and her staff also teach the kids of San Francisco de Asis to meditate.

“It’s just another form of prayer,” she says. “We want to teach our children that reciting prayers is good but it is also good to just talk to God, or sit silently and listen to God. We also want our kids to create their own prayers.”

For materials that would help Malinoski institute Franciscan ideals in her school—to her students and all the way home to their parents—she called upon USF’s Dean of Education John Gambro. And for her day-today struggles and victories, in her constant quest to do the right thing and change the world for the better, she calls upon the memory and influence of the sisters who shaped her as a student at USF in the volatile 1960s.