RANTOUL — The Rev. Stanley Malinowski loved football. He loved the outdoors. But he loved people even more, according to Carolyn Taylor, who worked with him at St. Malachy Catholic Church in Rantoul for 25 years.
Rantoul and Thomasboro area residents are mourning the death of Father Malinowski — a man who many say had the knack of making everyone feel special.
Father Malinowski died Dec. 4 from the effects of cancer. He was 84.
The Catholic priest served the St. Malachy parish in Rantoul for 25 years before a brief retirement, after which he served several years at St. Elizabeth of Hungary Church in Thomasboro.
"Father Malinowski always had such a lively spirit," Taylor said. "He loved everybody. He didn't limit his affection and love for the people who came to St. Mal. That was his nature. He could make you feel so positive about things."
A native of Ambridge, Pa., he was ordained a Catholic priest in 1954 and served as a priest and taught in several communities, including Schlarman High School and St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Danville, before coming to Rantoul.
Taylor said Father Malinowski was instrumental in St. Malachy School moving forward with an expansion project.
"He had this vision. He wanted to make St. Malachy School better all the time," Taylor said. "I remember ... I'd worked with him for a while, and he kept talking about building onto the school. I kept thinking he's not going to get me involved in that, but he did. He was such a motivator."
The first addition was completed in 1991. He retired from St. Malachy at age 70 in 1997, but Taylor said he continued to encourage the church to finish the remainder of the project, which was later realized when a new gymnasium, preschool addition, science lab and parish offices were built.
After retirement, he moved to the Bayles Lake-Lake Iroquois area near Loda for a time and spent some time in Florida. But he didn't like retirement, parishioner Tom Iorio said.
"He enjoyed serving," Iorio said.
"When you use the term shepherd, he epitomized what it was all about. He touched more people and more lives. I've witnessed it myself over many years. He was able to bring people to Christ. It didn't matter what faith you were, he treated everyone with love and respect."
Parishioner Cathy Gallahue said she was not raised Catholic but decided to join the church after she became engaged to her future husband, Pat.
"I was blessed to be able to take my religious instruction directly with Father Mal," Gallahue said. "On Dec. 1, 1976, I was baptized and confirmed into the Catholic faith with Father Mal officiating."
The Gallahues were married about a month later with Father Malinowski officiating.
"All of my family in attendance at the wedding were not Catholic but commented how Father Mal made them feel so at ease and welcome in the church," Gallahue said. "As a new Catholic, he helped guide me in my faith. All of our children ... were baptized by Father Mal."
Sister Sara Koch of the St. Malachy parish said she worked with the priest for about 11 years.
"To me, he just possessed a lot of gifts, and he wasn't afraid to use them," she said. "He had more wisdom than you could put in any ocean. His leadership skills were practiced in every little area."
Koch said Father Malinowski had the gift of remembering everyone's name.
"He had the ability to meet somebody and recognize them the next day," Koch said. "He was a people person, and he took a deep interest in everybody. Very compassionate."
Said Iorio, "Even in hospitals ... he would know nurses by name. It would brighten people up because he knew their name."
Koch said Father Mal would visit St. Malachy school almost every day, "and he would walk down that hall and go in the classroom and would call every youngster by name."
He would usually bring his golden retriever, Goldie, with him, and the students enjoyed that as Goldie went from classroom to classroom for public displays of affection, Koch said.
Father Malinowski also enjoyed such displays. Church-goers who didn't want to get a hug after Mass needed to slip out the back door because the priest was a hugger.
"He was always known as the hugging priest," Iorio said. "They would line up after church and have their Father Mal hug."
Father Jeffrey Laible followed Father Mal as priest at St. Malachy and served there for 10 years.
"It was a privilege to follow him as priest," Laible said. "I arrived in 1997 and inherited a well-managed and cared-for parish and school."
Laible said Father Mal was gracious in Laible's years at St. Malachy, filling in for him at different functions if Laible had to be gone for duties in the Air Force Reserves and later the Illinois Air National Guard.
He called Father Malinowski "solid in every possible way — solid in his faith, solid in his skills for leadership, solid in his person. He was just like a piece of granite, enduring. That is Father Malinowski."
Taylor said the priest was an avid fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers. She said he also looked the part of a grid fan.
"Father Mal was a big guy," she said. "He was only about 5-10, but he was built like a Polish linebacker."
Wanting to leave his life of retirement, the "Polish linebacker" petitioned the diocese and was approved to serve as priest at St. Elizabeth of Hungary Catholic Church in Thomasboro.
"He was most devoted," Joe Burke, a parishioner at St. Elizabeth, said. "He came out of retirement to become a pastor-emeritus. He loved being a priest. He talked about that many times."
Burke said the priest was able to help in many ways, including spiritually and with counseling and even financially, sometimes giving out of his own pocket.
Taylor said Father Malinowski enjoyed traveling and on occasion would lead groups from his church to Europe. Ironically, though, he never had a desire to visit Poland, birthplace of his parents.
It was after he visited Haiti that St. Malachy became a sister parish with one in Haiti.
"He would talk about how poor they were and needed our help," Taylor said. "We were very supportive of that and did a lot of charitable things."
"How do you sum up somebody like him?" Burke said. "He was definitely one of the most caring people I know. It didn't matter who you were or where you came from, he treated everybody the same."
Sister Teresa Marron, a native of Rantoul, now serves as vocation director for the Dominican Sisters of Springfield and works at Marian Catholic High School in Chicago Heights. She said Father Malinowski was instrumental in her life path.
She was in sixth grade when he came to Rantoul.
"He also hired me to teach at the school after I went to college and hired me in the summer time," Marron said. "He was an influence on me becoming a nun. Father would always drop me little hints that 'You would make a great sister' from the time I was in grade school actually.
"I think most people in Rantoul knew who Father Mal was, very open, honest, loved life, loved God, always looking out for the other person."
Iorio said the priest was also known for his speaking voice, and many parishioners at St. Malachy would also attend Mass at St. Elizabeth because of him.
"He had a very deep, mellow voice," Iorio said.
Taylor described it as "wonderful voice that could inspire people through his preaching."
For at least 30 years, Iorio said, Father Mal would read a piece that he had written, "I Like Christmas Because. ..."
"With his loving voice and background music of 'Silent Night," we always enjoyed" that reading, Iorio said.
Burke summed up Father Malinowski, "He was one in a million."