In Memoriam: Fr. Paul Mankowski, S.J.

Sacerdotal Steelworker

In the lore of the Society of Jesus, it has been thought that when a Jesuit dies, he fears meeting St. Ignatius more than he fears the judgment seat of Christ. Fr. Paul Mankowski, S.J., a son of Ignatius who died suddenly two weeks ago, need not fear that meeting. Several encomia have been printed already in some venerable publications and I initially hesitated to offer my own in light of those superb remembrances by some of his closer friends. Likewise, I determined that if I was going to write anything, it was going to be after his Requiem Mass, where his best friend in the Society, Fr. Kevin Flannery, S.J., would deliver the sermon over his mortal remains. With due deference to his family and friends who knew him best, I beg the reader to indulge me in offering some of my own recollections in the hope that it might give yet another insight into this good, manly, and holy priest.

While I first “met” Fr. Paul Mankowski in 1987, it wasn’t until around 1994 that I began to correspond with him and cultivate a friendship with him. For this I will be eternally grateful to Fr. Flannery for introducing us. We had met many times over the years and corresponded even more, but one of the most memorable occasions was meeting in Rome in the spring of 1997. I traveled to Rome with all the confidence of a 20-something-year-old intending to meet Pope John Paul II. In the Wojtylan Pontificate it was just possible that this could happen. I had written my letters, given the address of the pension where I was staying, and hoped for the longed-for phone call from the Vatican inviting me to a private audience with the pope.

I arrived on a Saturday afternoon and ended up grabbing a bite to eat, settling in, and doing some reading before bed. The real Roman visit began the next day, Sunday, with a solemn Latin Mass at St. Mary Major and then traipsing about Rome with the great Fr. Paul Mankowski, S.J. By that time, we had been correspondents for a number of years, but the opportunity to spend the day with him, grab a meal, joke, and converse was one of the highlights of my young intellectual life. He was both kind and indulgent to spend the entire day with a no-name undergrad who was completing his degree in Latin. In the early evening I returned to my pension and saw that a note was left for me from the Vatican inviting me to a private audience with John Paul II . . . but it was to have occurred 30 minutes prior. I missed it.

Long story short, through prayer and persistence, I did get to meet the pope at his private Mass later that week. The first person I visited afterwards was Fr. Paul — he was happy for me, but seemed nonplussed. That day, we walked the length and breadth of Rome and one of our stops was the Campo di Fiori. Our discussion, I’m sure, hovered over issues of heresy and we looked at the statue of Giordano Bruno; whence Father told me of a tradition that he and his colleagues had of sitting in the Campo with a few drinks toasting Bruno while singing the Platters’ “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.” Another meal, more conversation (always with a healthy dose of rust-belt humor), and we went to our respective lodgings with the intent to meet for Mass at St. Peter’s in the morning.

We got there (as we used to say in the Army) at “0-dark-thirty.” Father told me on what altar he would be offering Mass and I waited for him as he vested. He came to the altar, chalice and burse in hand, and began a quiet morning Mass for me and a few others who joined us. In a paraphrase of Waugh, here was Fr. Mankowski: a priest, at his craft. That moment, in the quiet of an early morning in Rome at an obscure side altar at St. Peter’s, eternity broke into time through the humble ministrations of a man. I could be mistaken, but my recollection is that Father was vested in red — obviously the feast day of a martyr. An appellation that could be said of Father often during his life.

Fr. Paul is a tremendous example of what it means to be a faithful Catholic and man’s man. He had common sense, a wit that was unmatched, the ability to steel a man’s spine and — in the words of Phil Lawler — “for full-spectrum intellectual wattage, none was more brilliant.” I would be remiss if I did not recall one more remembrance. The eldest of our eight children, Thomas, who is now 21, was born premature with severe mental and physical handicaps. He is at the functional level of a 1-year-old. My wife, Annie, and I call him “our lifelong companion.” I will always be grateful that when Tom came into the world and was on the verge of death so many times, Masses were offered by Fr. Paul for his health and healing. There was no question of his not doing this; this was the job of a priest. This was a special grace and favor for a son that a father does not forget. For that more than the multitude of other kindnesses he showed me and my family, I will always be grateful; and, if there was any singular act which might soften the heart of a stern Ignatius as he meets his Jesuit sons, I’m sure it would be that one. Fr. Paul, requiescas in pace.

Avatar About John M. DeJak

John M. DeJak, an attorney, is president of Father Gabriel Richard High School in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He is the co-editor of With God in America: The Spiritual Legacy of an Unlikely Jesuit. He and his wife, Annie, are the proud parents of eight children.

Comments

  1. Avatar madeleine sorensen says:

    What a tear-inspiring tribute of a friend so dear to one’s heart, and mind. Thank you. Yes, may Fr. Paul Mankowski rest in peace with all the Jesuit saints in Heaven, and I believe that today, the feast of St. Robert Bellarmine, was especially joyous as Fr. Paul has a heart and mind like St. Robert Bellarmine.
    Many times I held back the tears when reading of his life as they begged to flow when I pondered the sufferings of this great priest who indeed had a steel core, and all for God, His Church, and his beloved Jesuits..

  2. John, I saw that you had sent me a message, but I couldn’t get to the message. Please send me an email. And thank you for the lovely tribute.

  3. Avatar Leonard ATTARD says:

    The more I read about Rev Fr Paul Mankowski SJ the more I – borrowing the affective verb used by Tony Abbott – ‘love’ him. “love” is not a verb I would commonly use when speaking about another man but in the case of this holy priest, it is the most apt.

  4. Avatar Christopher Young says:

    Thanks for this tribute, John. I remember you speaking of Fr. Paul many times while at Hail Mary Law, and this tribute was spot-on. Also can’t believe Tom is 21! God bless.

  5. Avatar Victor Manuel Ramìrez Aguirre says:

    So very inspiring to read about a father Paul Mankowski SJ. I live in Honduras, Central America, I am a husband, father of two beautiful girls and 1 boy, I work as a dermatologist , for several years I have been following this site precisely because of articles like this. Thank you very much Sir.

  6. We all believe Fr. Mankowski, SJ is a saint!! You wrote so very well of him, John…of course, you could have written forever and barely captured the greatness of this heroic man, priest, Jesuit!! But I am so grateful for this tribute….he deserves it ….and is getting far more in Heaven too!!

  7. Avatar Anita Butler says:

    Dear John,
    I am so sorry for the loss of Paul. I loved hearing about your experiences with him. I am confident he is resting in Peace. I watched his funeral Mass on FB and saw that you and Annie had made it. I am so glad for you.

    Please remember me to your lovely family and know you are in my thoughts and prayers

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