Thanksgiving for a servant’s heart
Fr. Paul Mankowski, S.J. was a Jesuit priest from South Bend, Indiana who in unceasing charity served God, the Church, his family, friends, and those whom he encountered.
Dear reader, I never met Fr. Paul. I found myself edified by his prose sometime during high school, at which time I discovered the Lumen Christi Institute at the University of Chicago, where he was on staff as a scholar-in-residence since 2012.
A month ago, I learned that he was ill, subsequently hospitalized, and had died. May God grant eternal rest unto him. Thereafter I wanted to learn more about his life, so I reached out to those who knew him.
Professor Gerard Bradley, professor of law, knew Fr. Paul well. He met Fr. Paul about thirty years ago at a meeting of Catholic scholars. He doesn’t quite recall his first impression of Fr. Paul, but Professor Bradley remarked, “I am sure that my second or third [impression] was that he was brilliant and incredibly witty.” What Professor Bradley admired about Fr. Paul was “his complete and unqualified commitment to the apostolate, to Christ, and to putting all of his gifts at the service of the Gospel.”
I asked Professor Bradley about what in his experience was Fr. Paul’s best moment of witness to the faith. From his recollection, he said it was when Fr. Paul
“gladly accepted the Jesuits’ assignment of him to a parish in Amman, Jordan, where his parishioners were mostly guest workers from other countries, mainly I think from the Philippines. This pastoral assignment was an important opportunity for a priest to serve. But Paul’s rare and abundant gifts were not fully utilized in such an assignment, and I thought he might gripe about it. He did not complain, not once, even for an instant. I realized Paul’s was truly a servant’s heart.”
Fr. Paul had a servant’s heart indeed.
Fr. John Peck, S.J., a graduate student in philosophy, relayed his experience of Fr. Paul. He first met Fr. Paul as a Jesuit seminarian in 2010, when he lived at the Woodlawn Avenue Jesuit Community in Hyde Park. He reminisced that Fr. Paul “customarily celebrated Mass very early in the morning, and I often joined him. His piety and devotion to the Mass were always evident.”
Fr. Mankowski was a man who cared for those around him without measure. Fr. Peck recalls:
“He was also an extremely generous and gregarious member of his small Jesuit community: he often volunteered to cook dinner on the weekends (I remember that he made awesome barbecued ribs!), and liked to linger on the side porch after dinner, chatting about the day. Although he spent long hours praying, reading, thinking, and writing, he also loved spending time with his Jesuit brothers in community and his many non-Jesuit friends.”
Kevin Mankowski, Fr. Paul’s nephew, gave me a glimpse into Fr. Paul’s early and home life. Kevin told me what he remembered of stories from his father, Fr. Paul’s older brother. South Bend was “still pretty blue collar” at the time, and Fr. Paul and his siblings attended public school. “There was a pretty strong Catholic influence growing up,” Kevin said.
“He was very obedient,” Kevin said. “He would help out his grandparents with chores around the house.”
Fr. Paul was an avid reader in those days; in an account of his younger brother, Kevin’s father said, “He didn’t really leave the house or get out all that much during high school. But once he got to college, of course, he was more of a globetrotter.”
Kevin recalls that his uncle never spoke much of himself at home. “Even growing up, he never talked about him going to school, or really what he was doing, as far as his PhD or postdoc. He’d always be very very quiet about that stuff. He really didn’t like to bring attention himself.”
Fr. Paul, for the most part, spoke about family matters. “He would come over and talk to us more about stuff at home. What was going on with friends and family, how relatives were doing health-wise, and what people were doing.”
I asked Kevin what kind of impact his uncle left on him. He answered:
“The Faith is not so much about talking. It is very much about how you walk the walk. You can meet a thousand people in your life that talk and know a whole lot of things. You can know a lot of different scholars. But with my uncle, there was a way about him, that he walked it. He didn’t have to say much. You knew this was a serious man, and that’s something that influences me to this day.”
Fr. Paul was, indeed, a man who not only knew about the Faith, he lived it. May God rest his soul.
Many thanks to Professor Gerard Bradley, Father John Peck, S.J., Kevin Mankowski, Professor John O’Callaghan, Professor Carter Snead, and Margaret Cabaniss for making this article possible.
Bea Cuasay is a senior studying Philosophy, Constitutional Studies, and Music. She is longing to see the fall foliage at Holy Hill in Hubertus, Wisconsin, not far from home. She can be reached at email@example.com.