Arizona native with key role in papal visit, deep roots in Hispanic community, dies

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Mary Jo French (1936-2015)
Mary Jo French (1936-2015)

Dr. Maria Josefina “Mary Jo” Franco French, a leader in the Hispanic Catholic community, died Dec. 31. She was days shy of turning 80.

French was the former editor and owner of El Sol, the first Spanish-language newspaper in Phoenix, founded by her parents. A graduate of St. Francis Xavier Catholic School and Xavier College Preparatory, she went on to train as a physician at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México School of Medicine in 1967 and specialized in endocrinology.

A native of Arizona, French was a devout Catholic who was charged with logistics and security for the visit of Pope St. John Paul II to Phoenix in 1987. “It was a big job but she worked with her heart and her passion,” said Elvira Espinoza, a close friend of French, who worked alongside her for 18 years in the Alma de la Gente organization. Although it was not a Catholic group, French brought her faith into the mix.

“We had a pageant for girls to get them money for school,” Espinoza said. “Every year we had a Mass at Immaculate Heart [of Mary Parish] for our participants, and Catholic or not Catholic, they had to attend.”

Laura Franco-French remembers her mother’s passion for spreading devotion to the Virgen de Guadalupe and her efforts surrounding the papal visit.

“She worked really hard to make sure people had access to him — it was multiple events around the Valley — so that people could be able to share in seeing him and praying with him. She was really excited to bring a group from Mexico to sing for him,” said Franco-French.

“She really loved her community. She devoted her time and resources for the betterment of the Latino community,” Espinoza said. That included helping people who couldn’t afford proper medical care.

“She worked with several hospitals that started a mercy care program,” Espinoza said. “She and her husband gave money to these medical institutions providing medical services to people.”

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