A champion of the missions and servant priest at St. Anselm, Msgr. Moloney dies at 93

Msgr. James Moloney is pictured in his office at St. Anselm Parish in Dearborn Heights on Nov. 22, 2022. The 93-year-old priest, who passed away Jan. 3, served as director of the Archdiocese of Detroit's Society for the Propagation of the Faith for 62 years and as pastor of St. Anselm Parish in Dearborn since 1978. (Valaurian Waller | Detroit Catholic)

DEARBORN HEIGHTS — James Moloney was standing out in the pasture of his cousin’s farm in Ennismore, Ontario, when his eye met a herd of cows.

He was a young man from Detroit visiting family and discerning whether he should enter the seminary. He was looking for a sign.

Then a cow came up and licked him, confirming in Moloney where God wanted him to go. He entered Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit, became a priest, a pastor and champion for missionaries around the world, as well as a “grandfather priest” for the “buckaroos” at St. Anselm Parish in Dearborn Heights.

Msgr. James Moloney passed away Jan. 3. He was 93.

Msgr. Moloney often told his story of priestly discernment and other anecdotes about growing up in Detroit and spending time with his family to his congregation at St. Anselm, where he served since 1978. His stories and experiences made him relatable, said Bob Salter, co-president of St. Anselm's parish council.

“He was very personal in that he’d almost always start his homilies with a story, either from being a missionary going around the world or from his own upbringing,” Salter told Detroit Catholic. “He’d speak a lot about his family growing up, where his dad owned a lumber yard, his mom and his brothers. The people really related to him, because he made the Gospel family-based.”

A photo of then Fr. James Moloney taken in July 1963 after he was named director for the Archdiocese of Detroit's Society for the Propagation of the Faith. (courtesy photo)
A photo of then Fr. James Moloney taken in July 1963 after he was named director for the Archdiocese of Detroit's Society for the Propagation of the Faith. (courtesy photo)

James Arthur Moloney was born to Peter and Edith Moloney in Detroit on June 18, 1930.

After earning his Bachelor’s in Philosophy at Sacred Heart Seminary in 1952 and a Master’s in Theology at St. John’s Provincial Seminary in Plymouth in 1956, Fr. Moloney was ordained by Cardinal Edward A. Mooney of Detroit on June 2, 1956, at the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament.

Fr. Moloney briefly served as associate pastor at St. Joan of Arc Parish in St. Clair Shores (1956-61) before he was named director for the Archdiocese of Detroit's Society for the Propagation of the Faith in 1963 and pastor of St. Anselm Parish in 1978 — both roles in which he would serve for decades.

The dual assignments were near and dear to his heart, and those who knew Fr. Moloney (who was named a monsignor in 1990) said he put equal dedication and devotion into both assignments.

“I don’t remember him taking a vacation; I don’t remember him taking a day off,” Salter said. “I remember telling him I’m concerned about all my priest friends, burning the candle on both ends. He said he was doing what he loved and couldn’t imagine retiring or stepping down.”

Msgr. Moloney was among the oldest still-serving priests in the Archdiocese of Detroit at his passing. He stepped down as director of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith on Aug. 1, 2023, but remained at St. Anselm.

Laura Gutierrez, parish administrative assistant and business manager at St. Anselm, joined the parish in 1986 when her family was looking for a parish attached to a school. After seeing how Msgr. Moloney interacted with the students, calling them his “buckaroos,” she knew they found the right place.

A photo of the family farm in Ennismore, Ontario and a cow figurine are in the foreground. Msgr. Moloney said while visiting Ennismore, a cow came up and licked him in the face, which he knew was God's ways of saying he was supposed to go to the seminary. (courtesy photo)
A photo of the family farm in Ennismore, Ontario and a cow figurine are in the foreground. Msgr. Moloney said while visiting Ennismore, a cow came up and licked him in the face, which he knew was God's ways of saying he was supposed to go to the seminary. (courtesy photo)

“I remember my youngest son was making his first confession and how scared he was to meet with the Monsignor at the rectory,” Gutierrez said. “We all went with him for the appointment, and when John Paul came out, he and Monsignor were best buds.”

Gutierrez said a favorite line of Msgr. Moloney’s was to tell the students after school Mass to take the next couple of days off — school Mass was usually Friday.

Msgr. Moloney was a remarkable storyteller, Gutierrez said, both in his weekly homilies and whenever he was preaching about the missions and the need for Detroiters to support Church projects around the world.

Msgr. Moloney had a knack for making the missions relatable for the people in the pews, encouraging them to support the work of missionaries spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ in far-flung places.

“His biggest impact was the way he cared so much for everyone, and he got other people to care for everyone,” Gutierrez said. “His passion for the missions was great, and during his time as the Propagation of the Faith director, he raised the most funds, but he did it in a way that made people feel comfortable in giving.”

Gutierrez remembers Msgr. Moloney would write letters to everyone who gave to the missions, regardless of how big or small the donation was.

Msgr. Moloney with cousins and extended family on the family farm in Ennismore, Ontario.
Msgr. Moloney with cousins and extended family on the family farm in Ennismore, Ontario.

Angela Moloney, president and CEO of the Catholic Foundation of Michigan and Msgr. Moloney’s niece, inherited the same passion for Catholic philanthropy. She and the rest of her family got to see the more personable side of Msgr. Moloney, affirming that his care for others halfway across the world and just down the school hall was truly genuine.

It was that genuineness that led to people’s generosity, Moloney said.

“My uncle taught me passion, gratitude and joy,” Angela Moloney said. “If you believe in a cause, all you need to do is simply ask others to join you. Invite people with passion and transparency. He taught me always to be thankful, to pray for all people who provide support and share with them the Good News.”

Msgr. Moloney visited more than 58 countries during his time as director of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, and became known as one of the society's most prolific fundraisers. But for all of his global awareness, it was Msgr. Moloney’s ability to make the story of the missions local that made him such an effective supporter for the missions.

“His mission in life was to spread God’s love and to help people share that love with one another,” Angela Moloney said. “He did that in small ways locally, and in tremendous ways across the globe. That will be his legacy.”

Msgr. James Moloney with his niece, Angela Moloney, president and CEO of the Catholic Foundation of Michigan. Angela Moloney said Msgr. Moloney was a big inspiration for her and her entire family, with his steadfast commitment to missions around the world and St. Anselm Parish in Dearborn Heights. (courtesy photo)
Msgr. James Moloney with his niece, Angela Moloney, president and CEO of the Catholic Foundation of Michigan. Angela Moloney said Msgr. Moloney was a big inspiration for her and her entire family, with his steadfast commitment to missions around the world and St. Anselm Parish in Dearborn Heights. (courtesy photo)

With such longevity at one parish, Msgr. Moloney had become the preeminent fixture at St. Anselm, a rock in the community. Despite all the hours writing letters to supporters of the missions and his organizing efforts for World Mission Sunday across the archdiocese, Msgr. Moloney was a constant presence in the parish and at St. Anselm School and was always seen at Christmas concerts and school events, said principal Angela Kraetke.

“He loved his parish, he loved his parishioners, and he really loved his school,” Kraetke said. “Not every priest that has a school is in the school building a lot, but Monsignor was very active. He wanted to know what we were doing. If we had an event going on, he was right there in the front row. When we got a new jungle gym, he was right there to bless it.”

Kraetke got her first job as a principal at St. Anselm after meeting with Msgr. Moloney in 2014, and from that first meeting she saw a priest who was a “grandfather” to all of St. Anselm's students. Msgr. Moloney had a calm, caring demeanor that seemed to de-stress every situation.

“He has created such a wonderful legacy here, I think the parish and the school will continue to flourish (after his passing),” Kraetke said. “The families and the students and our staff were so dedicated to him because he was so dedicated to us. If we remember all he did for this community and we emulate that drive, that passion, his dedication will still be alive.”

Msgr. Moloney is predeceased by his parents, Peter and Edith, and his brothers, Peter, Paul and Perry (Delores). He is survived by his brother, Lawrence (Anne) Moloney, and sister-in-law, Elaine Moloney, as well as many nieces and nephews.

Msgr. Moloney will lie in state at St. Anselm Parish, 17650 W. Outer Drive, Dearborn Heights, on Tuesday, Jan. 9, 3-9 p.m., with a Scripture service at 7 p.m. Visitation will continue at St. Anselm Parish on Wednesday, Jan. 10, 9 a.m. until his funeral Mass at 11 a.m. Interment will take place privately.



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