The mighty feather of Father Paul Mankowski, SJ
During the summer before the opening of Vatican Council II, Pope John XXIII met Cardinal Leon-Joseph Suenens in the papal residence of Castel Gandolfo. “I know what my role will be at the Council,” the Pope told the Belgian Archbishop. “It will be to suffer.” Pope John was far-sighted, and not just because the first few weeks of the Council would prove to be controversial; Shortly before Vatican II began its work, the Pope was diagnosed with the painful cancer that would kill him in less than a year.
When Paul Mankowski, ending a distinguished undergraduate career at the University of Chicago and anticipating graduate studies and a fulfilling marital life, was unexpectedly hammered by a call from the High Authority to abandon his plans and join the Company of Jesus, I don’t think he imagined that his role among the Jesuits would be to suffer: in, for and for the community in which he would spend 44 years as a novice, priest, scholar and sign of contradiction. The man who became Mankowski’s father, SJ, was very tough, and as a former boxer he knew something about absorbing pain. But he was not a masochist, and he did not purposely seek suffering. It came to him, and he endured it, for the same reason that John XXIII accepted his suffering: it was for greater good and greater glory – the glory of God.
The death of Father Mankowski last September was another unforeseen horror in a year of hard knocks. We spoke by phone and e-mail with the regularity that has marked our friendship for three decades; Neither I nor any of his other friends had predicted that when Paul Mankowski, 66, settled into a dentist’s chair on September 3, 2020, he would be shot down by a burst brain aneurysm. A few days later, still unable to understand that he had been taken so brutally, a thought occurred to me: some of Father Mankowski’s writings should be anthologized so that others could get to know this inspiring author, his insight and his mind just as sharp. My friends at Ignatius Press agreed. And thanks to their good work, Jesuit in General: Essays and Criticisms by Paul V. Mankowski, SJ, has just been published with my biographical introduction.
Several of the essays collected plunge us into the heart of liturgical wars which, unfortunately, have once again intensified in the Church. A classicist by training who understood how horrific some of the earliest vernacular translations of Mass texts were, Paul Mankowski celebrated both forms of the Roman Rite with reverence and joy. He could also clearly explain why the celebrating priest was the servant of the liturgy, not its master – and why the do-it-yourself liturgy was an offense to God and a heinous narcissistic exercise of clericalism.
Perhaps only Paul Mankowski could explain how dissent Humanae Vitae and his teaching on morally appropriate means of regulating fertility in marriage had corrupted the consecrated religious life of those who did not marry. And no one could confuse the inanities of the contemporary academic guild like Father Mankowski. One of the essays of Jesuit in general, “What I Saw at the American Academy of Religion” is both funny and a premonitory dissection of today’s waking intellectual life, written decades before “revival” became part of the national vocabulary. .
As a literary critic, Paul Mankowski was second to none: deeply informed about the subject matter of any given book (whether it was a literary biography or analysis of the Koran, a silly novel by Norman Mailer, or a pretentious study of Jesus by AN Wilson ); infallibly witty; and a stylist of distinction. In his review of Philip Eade’s book Evelyn Waugh: A Life Revisited, he writes that “between fifteen and seventeen, [Waugh] acquired an almost frightening mastery of English prose [and] for the rest of his life he was almost unable to write a boring sentence. I don’t know at what age he acquired the know-how, but the same could be said of Paul Mankowski, whose sentences sparkled as much as they were instructive. There would be many more Mankowski to anthologize if his religious superiors hadn’t kept him from publishing for years. This decision deprived the Catholic Anglosphere of one of its most powerful feathers. My hope is that Jesuit in general help many of those in such need discover one of the most brilliant minds and noblest sons of the American Church on this first anniversary of his death in Christ.
George Weigel is an independent columnist whose weekly column is syndicated by the Archdiocese of Denver. The opinions and viewpoints expressed by Mr. Weigel therein are his alone and do not necessarily reflect those of the Archdiocese of Denver or the bishops of Denver.
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