Jesuit scholar, affiliated with Catholic center at University of Chicago, dies suddenly at age 66.
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He worked in a steel mill to help pay for his college education and was on the boxing team at Oxford. Later, he got himself arrested. After he became a priest, he gave away all the money he had received as ordination gifts.
By the time he died this week at age 66, Jesuit Fr. Paul V. Mankowski was one of the most highly regarded thinkers in the Catholic Church.
Fr. Mankowski suffered a brain hemorrhage while waiting to see his dentist Thursday. He was rushed to a hospital in Evanston, Illinois, where he was pronounced dead.
Tributes poured in across Catholic media and social media. Tony Abbot, the former prime minister of Australia, penned a tribute in First Things, in which he recalled meeting Fr. Mankowski at Oxford in 1981.
“He was a Jesuit scholastic, two years into Latin and Greek philosophy at Campion Hall; I was a politics and philosophy freshman at The Queen’s College. We met through the Australian priest and doctoral student John Honner,” Abbot recalled.
“Paul was the first contemporary I’d found who was both an utterly committed Jesuit and a ‘normal’ human being,” wrote Abbot, who was Australia’s prime minister from 2013-2015.
Robert P. George, McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence and Director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University, commented on Facebook, “We have lost a brilliant scholar of ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern languages and texts, an acute, if acerbic, and always insightful commentator on contemporary religion, politics, and culture, and for many of us a dear friend. The Church has lost a dedicated, faithful priest — at a time when she can ill afford to lose such men.”
At the time of his death, Fr. Mankowski was scholar-in-residence at the Lumen Christi Institute, a Catholic intellectual center at the University of Chicago.
“Over the years, he served our campus community and the wider Chicago area through courses, sacraments, and spiritual direction,” a note on the institute’s website said. “Fr. Paul would regularly gather with students from the University for quarter-long seminars on topics ranging from books of the Bible to the fiction and poetry of Catholic authors. He had an impact on countless students and laypersons. He was known for his dry sense of humor, tireless devotion to the care of souls, depth of intellect, and his broad humanist interests.”
For the past few months, he had been leading a monthly seminar on Shakespeare for young Catholic professionals and leading a small weekly Greek New Testament reading group for university students, said Mark Franzen, Program Coordinator.
According to an obituary on the website of the Midwest Province of the Society of Jesus, Fr. Mankowski was born on November 15, 1953, in South Bend, Indiana. Before entering the Society of Jesus, he earned an AB in classics and philosophy from the University of Chicago.
He entered the Society on September 5, 1976, at Berkley, Michigan. He was ordained on June 13, 1987, and he professed final vows on December 12, 2012, in the Chapel of Ignatius House on the campus of Loyola University Chicago.
Fr. Mankowski earned an MA in classics from Oxford University in 1983 and a master of divinity and a Licentiate in Sacred Theology from Weston Jesuit School of Theology in 1987. He earned a PhD in comparative Semitic philology from Harvard University in 1997.
He taught at Xavier University from 1983-1984, and after doctoral studies, was a professor of Old Testament languages at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome, Italy (1994-2009). Returning to the States, he taught at Christ the King Jesuit College Preparatory School in 2010 and at Graham School of General Studies at the University of Chicago, 2010-2011. He spent a year as acting pastor of Sacred Heart Church English Language Parish in Amman, Jordan, before, in 2012, becoming a Scholar-in-Residence at Lumen Christi Institute.
It was during his college years at the University of Chicago that he worked in the nearby steel mills to help support himself.
“In the Society, Paul did the PPE program at Oxford: philosophy, politics and economics,” according to the Jesuits. “These early years laid the foundation for Paul’s lifelong devotion to learning, reading widely in theology, biblical studies, philosophy, and political thought. Paul was always knowledgeable about contemporary events in Church, politics, and culture, and ready to offer his perspective when engaged on these subjects, always rooted in his devotion to tradition and orthodoxy. … Paul was deeply devoted to the Mass and the sacraments. He was generous with his supply work to Calvert House, the Newman Center at the University of Chicago, various parishes, as well as for communities of women religious around the world.” The Jesuit website continued:
Paul’s years in Rome at Pontifical Biblical Institute found him teaching ancient biblical languages to eager students from around the world. At the same time, he regularly read widely in contemporary theology and was sought after by many important Church leaders to offer his advice and perspective. Paul had firm opinions about things such as the most recent translations of the lectionary and Roman Missal which he regarded as improvements. From time to time, Paul would offer book reviews and articles to the noted review, First Things.
Phil Lawler, editor of CatholicCulture.org, revealed in a laudatory column that Fr. Mankowski was the most frequent contributor to a one-time column on the site called Off the Record, writing under the pseudonym Diogenes.
“Father Mankowski had a special gift for satire, and — appropriately for a man who had been a boxer in student days — never pulled his punches,” Lawler recalled.
The author said he was friends for so long with the priest that he doesn’t recall how they met. “I think our first face-to-face meeting was in jail in Brookline, Massachusetts, after we had both been arrested during an Operation Rescue blockade of an abortion clinic,” Lawler said.
It was not the first time Fr. Mankowski displayed his commitment to the pro-life cause. Janet E. Smith, retired as the Fr. McGivney Chair in Life Ethics at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, said that early in the days of the Women’s Care Center in South Bend, which she helped to start, “we received a substantial check from a Jesuit, Fr. Mankowski,” from nearby Granger, Indiana. “He donated all the money he received upon his ordination to the center,” she said.
In 2014, Fr. Mankowski contributed a chapter, along with five cardinals and other scholars, to Remaining in the Truth of Christ: Marriage and Communion in the Catholic Church. The book was a response to Cardinal Walter Kasper’s proposal, at the two gatherings of the Synod of Bishops that considered problems facing marriage and the family, to take a more “merciful” approach to the question of Eucharistic Communion for Catholics in illegitimate marriages.
By all accounts, Fr. Mankowski was far from an ivory tower academic, however. His fellow Jesuits remember him as a “quiet, but kind and caring presence for his brothers, and he was known for his quick wit and sense of humor. You could set your watch by his morning walks and prayer time. When men in formation would live at Woodlawn, Paul would offer to celebrate Mass for them. When needed, Paul would cook, clean, and care for the sick. Paul would not call attention to himself when he did these quiet acts of service. For all his tremendous intellectual and linguistic gifts, Paul wore them all lightly and was, deep down, a humble man who never forgot where he came from and who he belonged to and who he loved. While Paul had his theological, philosophical and political differences with many of his Jesuit brothers and — at times — superiors, Paul’s deep love of the Church, the Society of Jesus, and his Jesuit vocation was the bedrock of his life, as he was convinced that fidelity to this vocation was his way to salvation.”
Lawler noted that Fr. Mankowski had recently volunteered to bring the sacraments to COVID-19 patients, “whatever the risks.”
“That was predictable,” he wrote. “While he was stationed in Rome, teaching, he would use school breaks to travel to different countries and work with the Missionaries of Charity. As editor of Catholic World Report I published his memorable, moving accounts of service to ‘the poorest of the poor’ — written again pseudonymously, to deflect attention from himself — in Romania and Armenia. He lived very simply himself. Leila [Lawler’s wife] noticed his threadbare clerical shirts.”
The priest’s embrace of the vow of poverty was driven home when Lawler visited Rome, he said. He asked him to recommend a good restaurant.
“He couldn’t,” Lawler recounted. “Is there another priest who, after a few years in Rome, cannot tell a friend where to get a spectacular dinner?”