The homilist at the funeral Mass for Fr Paul Mankowski remarked upon “three things that were important” to the late Jesuit – his family, the Society of Jesus and St John Fisher. This last, the preacher suggested, was a fitting devotion, for Mankowski, like the martyr bishop, “was extremely learned, especially in biblical languages and theology”. Cardinal Fisher experienced the loneliness of fidelity as all his brother bishops capitulated to Henry VIII. So too did Mankowski pay the price of fidelity amidst difficult years in the Society.
Watching the livestream, I permitted myself to wonder what Fr Mankowski himself might have said about the homily of Fr Kevin Flannery, his brother Jesuit and philosopher at the Gregorian University in Rome. With the repeated references to St John Fisher as the patron who exemplified the life that Fr Mankowski had lived, the deceased might have observed that he was never in danger of beheading because, whatever else his Jesuit superiors were wobbly on, they were implacably opposed to the death penalty.
Paul Mankowski was a very good Jesuit, the best of the Jesuit tradition. That he was considered a bad, or at least a troublesome, Jesuit by his superiors and the Society’s leadership for much his life was a rather sharp indictment of the Society which he intensely loved. Indeed, he loved the Society too much to leave it when not a few of his superiors wished that he would; he would have not lacked for opportunities given his preternatural talents.
He loved the Society too much to remain silent about its corruptions. Whether he spoke the truth in love was not always obvious; even his admirers concede that his compelling columns could be acerbic, even cutting.
In death the Chicago (Midwest) province to which he belonged was generous in acknowledging his gifts and his service to the poor. One of the most learned men in the Society, he spent his Christmas breaks working with the Missionaries of Charity. But he lived his vow of poverty all year round, probably more devotedly than 95 per cent of religious men.
The Jesuits did not celebrate Fr Mankowski in life, but then prophets do not get honours. Consider the contrast with America’s most famous Jesuit, Fr James Martin, SJ – celebrated by the Vatican, movie stars and fashion designers – who has been decorated with honorary degrees from major Jesuit universities. Despite being twice as brilliant as Fr Martin – and most priests for that matter – there were no such Jesuit honours for Mankowski.
Except for one. He was silenced by the Society, the ultimate tribute which those who cannot bear the truth bestow upon those who forcefully proclaim it.
Fr Mankowski was the perspicacious boy who awkwardly kept pointing out that too many in the Society had no clothes, clerical or otherwise, often literally. His forthright denunciation of liturgical, doctrinal and moral corruption in the Society and in the Church earned him an admonition to avoid public controversy. When he was told that he could not write without Jesuit censorship, he wrote pseudonymously. His writing was so distinctively dazzling though that the cover was rather thin. So his superiors forbade him to write at all. What’s a good Jesuit to do when the Society has gone bad? Obey. So he stopped writing.
Fr Mankowski was relentless on the corrupt and cowardly ecclesial culture that produced the sexual abuse cover-ups. In that he was not alone, but he went further than most. Though it is hardly a secret that in the 1970s a culture of sexual licentiousness had invaded Jesuit houses of formation, Mankowski was one of the few who would talk of sexual predation in religious life. That very few others would do so did not mean that it had gone away.
Eventually the Jesuits dealt with their genius and his orthodoxy problem. After some 15 years teaching languages at the Biblicum in Rome, he moved to Chicago’s Lumen Christi Institute, a lay-run scholarly centre where he spent the last eight years as scholar-in-residence. It’s a sadness that the Jesuit universities could not find a place for him, but there was a silver lining. Mankowski was at last admitted to final vows, a modest 36 years after he entered the Society.
Those of us who love the Jesuit charism, despite what they have become, take consolation in those true sons of Ignatius and Francis that we know personally. For me, Cardinal Avery Dulles was a grandfatherly guide, Archbishop Terrence Prendergast of Ottawa is an inspiration and support, Joseph Koterski of New York a model of humble excellence, Joseph Carola of Rome adorned my student days. Paul Mankowski was among the brightest of that firmament. May he now gaze upon the greater glory of God.
Fr Raymond J de Souza is a priest of the Archdiocese of Kingston, Ontario, and founding editor of convivium.ca