On Thursday, September 3, 2020, Fr. Paul V. Mankowski, S.J. passed suddenly from this life. Father Mankowski had a reputation as a controversialist, and he often butted heads with his confreres and superiors in the Society of Jesus. But I leave those stories to be told by others. For my family and me the memories of Father Paul are of a prayerful, gentle, selfless, and loyal friend, fully embracing the charism of St. Ignatius of Loyola as a man for others and for God. Oh, and a brilliant philologist—he was the smartest person I have ever known.
In our graduate school days, Father Paul was a frequent dinner guest in our home. “Guest” is probably not the most appropriate word, as he described our house as his retreat from the aforementioned controversies in his own community. Two or three evenings a week, he would walk the three miles from his house in Cambridge, Massachusetts to ours in Somerville, always bearing either of a bottle of wine or six-pack of Samuel Adams, a couple of baguettes, a wedge of cheese, or some combination of all these things. Often he would take over the kitchen, whipping up a delicious bowl of spaghetti aglio e olio, a pan of stuffed mushrooms, or a batch of ravioli from scratch.
Born on November 15, 1953 in South Bend, Indiana, where he was raised, Father Paul joined the Society of Jesus upon his 1976 graduation from the University of Chicago with an A.B. in Classics and Philosophy. After completing his novitiate, he earned an M.A. in Classics from Oxford University in 1983, then returned to the U.S., where he obtained his Master of Divinity and Licentiate in Sacred Theology from Weston School of Theology, in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1987. Father Paul was ordained in 1987 at St. Francis Xavier Church in Cincinnati, Ohio. He then moved back to Cambridge to continue his graduate education in the Department of Near Eastern Languages & Civilizations at Harvard University, from which he received his Ph.D. in 1997.
I first met Father Paul through a mutual friend in 1988, when I began my doctoral studies at Boston College and he was at Harvard. I was also in the midst of an ecclesiastical crisis, which eventually led to my confirmation into full communion with the Roman Catholic Church in November 1989. Father Paul was a vital companion on that journey. With three other priests, he concelebrated the Mass at which my wife and I were confirmed, and where my oldest daughter, Abigail, was baptized in St. Mary’s Chapel on the campus of Boston College.
Blessed with a prodigious memory, Father Paul often recited, verbatim and without error, all of Hilaire Belloc’s Cautionary Tales for Children to my children, while my daughter gnawed on the tab pulled from Father’s collar, or my son slobbered all over his beer bottle. It was that memory that served his ingenious facility with language. He read Hebrew, Latin, and Greek as well as I read English. In the Spring of 1993, when he was appointed to teach Hebrew at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome, where he taught for the following 15 years, he spoke almost no Italian. When he began the semester the following October, he taught introduction to Hebrew—in Italian.
(His fluency was tested when my wife and infant daughter Beatrice, along with my wife’s sister, visited him in February 1997, and Beatrice became ill with a high fever. Father Paul came through when he came up with the Italian word for “suppositories” at a Roman pharmacy.)
In addition to his facility with languages, Father Paul was an astute observer and diagnostician of cultural and ecclesiastical maladies. He wrote powerful defenses of priestly celibacy, traditional marriage, and the Church’s teaching on life issues. Even when it caused him professional frustration and personal grief, he would never compromise the integrity of the Church’s teaching, and he would never flinch from the challenge of defending it against detractors, with sly but devastating wit and a perfect turn of phrase.
Father Paul saw his vocation in similar terms to Evelyn Waugh’s description of the priest as craftsmen. What “most drew me [to the Church],was the spectacle of the priest and his server at low Mass,” explained Waugh, “stumping up to the altar without a glance to discover how many or how few he had in his congregation,” he continued; “a craftsman and his apprentice; a man with a job which he alone was qualified to do. That is the Mass I have grown to know and love.”
While, of course, Father Paul more typically celebrated the novus ordo, he had an acute understanding of just this role. When he visited parishes to say Mass, he told me, he would not introduce himself, because that would be both distracting and irrelevant. For that hour, he was in persona Christi, serving at the altar with reverence and awe, single-mindedly devoted to the craft to which he was called. His commitment to the Eucharist informed his entire life and ministry. His devotion to the Mass was a powerful witness to my wife and me as young Catholics.
But Father Paul’s ministry was not limited to dispensing the sacraments. Until his own health issues slowed him down, he spent every Christmas and most Easter breaks serving the poorest of the poor with the Missionaries of Charity in far flung corners of the world. He would send very long missives to friends after these trips, detailing the poverty and squalor in which he worked, but also the faithful ministry of the daughters of St. Theresa of Calcutta. He was truly a man for others.
As much as Father Paul loved the Church, and despite an often contentious relationship, he also loved the Society of Jesus. He was proud to be a Jesuit, and he took his vows with the utmost sincerity. One Christmas early in our friendship, I gave Father a copy of Flannery O’Connor’s collected works. He received it graciously, but promptly gave it away to someone else, consistent with his vow of poverty. Later, when we knew one another better, he explained to me that the entirety of his personal possessions fit in a medium-sized suitcase, and that’s how it would always be. (From then on, we gave him gifts of food and drink.)
Humble and generous of spirit, Father Paul is perfectly described by a tribute to St. Thomas More by a contemporary of More in 1520: “[A] man of an angel’s wit and singular learning. I know not his fellow. For where is the man of that gentleness, lowliness and affability? And, as time requireth, a man of marvelous mirth and pastimes, and sometime of as sad gravity. A man for all seasons.” Rest in Peace, Father Paul.
Kenneth Craycraft is a licensed attorney and the James J. Gardner Family Chair of Moral Theology at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary and School of Theology, the seminary for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. He holds the Ph.D. in theology from Boston College, and the J.D. from Duke University School of Law.
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