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Jesuit Father Paul Mankowski Was a Man for Our Season…

Jesuit Father Paul Mankowski Was a Man for Our Season…

COMMENTARY: The late priest, who was unjustly silenced by his own Jesuit order, was a model of sanity and sanctity.

Jesuit Father Paul Mankowski was a legend to those who knew him. There were stories that floated around: He never owned more than he could put into a medium-sized box; he blessed the meal at the arrival of cocktails; he had once been the sparring partner of Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott. All of those things were true.

In an article written for First Things in 2023, Father Jerry Pokorsky described Father Mankowski’s writing as “outbursts of sanity.” That title hits home for me, as I spent many years telling anyone who would listen that my Jesuit friend was “keeping me sane.” Indeed, I have him to thank for the fact that my faith is rock solid in the midst of the mind-numbing confusion that is present-day Catholicism.

Anyone who ever met Father Mankowski realized that he was a once-in-a-lifetime individual. No one was as brilliant, clever, devoted to God and to Holy Mother Church, as utterly delightful to be around, or even as humble. All of those characteristics (and more) made him a treasure to everyone who knew him.

Sadly, however, not many people actually knew him. As a consequence of the actions of his Jesuit superiors, the most frequent response I got when I told people that I was writing a book about him was, “I’ve never heard of him.” The Jesuits made sure of that, and thereby robbed the world of the mighty voice of Father Mankowski — a gift to us from God for these chaotic times.

The Jesuits also realized what an exceptional person he was. For them, this was not good news. On top of all else, Father Mankowski was ardently orthodox and faithfully devoted to the teaching magisterium of the Catholic Church, and he had no desire to keep quiet about it. He felt a strong call to inform Catholics who were being led astray by the siren song of modernism. Before he was silenced, Father Mankowski had published powerful articles with titles like “What Went Wrong?” (for Catholic World Report, a commentary on the state of the Church) and “The Do-It-Yourself Catholic Kiddiekism” (for First Things, a parody that includes a mention of “God’s pronouns” — written in 1991!)

The story of how Father Mankowski came to be silenced is too complicated for the scope of this article, but you can read about it in greater detail in my book, The Sound of Silence: The Life and Cancelling of a Heroic Jesuit Priest. The short version is that he spoke out against a fellow Jesuit priest who defied St. Ignatius’ admonition against members of their congregation holding public office and ran for Congress in 1970 and ended up serving four terms.

In an article for the National Catholic Register, Father Raymond J. de Souza sums up the Father Robert Drinan affair succinctly:

“The Jesuit priest (Drinan) was the godfather of the Democrats becoming the party of abortion. … No Catholic priest ever did more to promote abortion law than Father Drinan.”

Father Drinan was a hero to liberal Jesuits everywhere, and they did not take kindly to Father Mankowski’s criticism of him. It was those actions that resulted in Father Mankowski being officially silenced in 2007, as recounted by George Weigel in Jesuit at Large: Essays and Reviews by Paul V. Mankowski, S.J., which Weigel edited. He was no longer to publish any articles under his own name.

Without the ability to use his name in print, Father Mankowski did an end run and adopted the pseudonym Diogenes for his articles.

Naming himself after the ancient Greek philosopher who searched the world for an honest man provided a nice little Easter egg for both himself and those who knew the real identity of the author.

If the Jesuits had thought that Father Mankowski’s writing was critical of them, they hadn’t seen anything before Diogenes was born. Father Mankowski’s alter ego was much bolder, much less diplomatic, and his acerbic wit was completely unchecked. As a result, Diogenes earned quite a following when he wrote for Phil Lawler’s Catholic World Report (now Catholic Culture.)

Nevertheless, consummate genius and scathing wit are difficult to hide, and Jesuits soon figured out Diogenes’ identity.

Father Mankowski was then instructed in 2008 not to write under any byline. Further, he was not allowed to speak on any subject other than his specific area of expertise: ancient semitic languages. Thus, Father Mankowski once gave a speech at Thomas Aquinas College entitled “Recent Work on the Patterning of Open-Syllable Vowel-Shifts in Pre-Masoretic Hebrew,” which was actually about the state of modern Catholicism.

Father Mankowski wore many hats. He was a biblical scholar, a philologist, a writer, a satirist, a son, a brother, and the most loyal of friends. But it’s essential we understand that he was also an incredibly holy man.

In an age sadly marked by clerical infidelity, he kept his vows with the solemnity that he knew they deserved. His virtue of poverty was illustrated by the fact that his wardrobe consisted of four black shirts (“in varying degrees of shabbiness”), two pairs of black pants, and one pair of black shoes. Most of those items were hand-me-downs from Jesuits who had died. He estimated that his annual wardrobe expense to be $90 (“$140 if I have to buy shoes”).

By the time he died in 2020 at the age of 66, he was spending three-quarters of his life fasting for the state of the Church (“some demons are only cast out by prayers and fasting”). His diet consisted of bread and water for three weeks of the month and regular food for one week. When COVID was at its peak in New York City, he asked his bishop to be sent there to offer last rites for the dying and comfort to their families. Instead of spending his vacation time on a beach or even with his family, he spent those weeks working with Mother Teresa’s Sisters of Charity in some of the worst places on earth. That is the kind of man that he was. At his funeral, I had to get into a line of people who were putting their rosaries on his chasuble. I am far from the only person who considers him a saint.

I wrote The Sound of Silence: The Life and Canceling of a Heroic Jesuit in part to un-silence him, but also to let people get to know him. (A friend who read an early copy of my book said, “I was getting mad at you for not introducing me to this guy, but then I remembered that he was dead when I met you.”) My book contains much unpublished writing from the emails we exchanged over the years, and I can say from personal experience that internalizing his voice has kept me from temptations against hope as I have watched modernism wreak havoc on Holy Mother Church.

As with the Ignatian command to “fling out broad” the name of Christ, I believe we should also fling out broad the name and the voice of Jesuit Father Paul Mankowski — for the greater glory of God.

Karen Hall is the author of The Sound of Silence: The Life and Cancelling of a Heroic Jesuit Priest (Crisis Publications, 2024). Before becoming an author, she spent three decades writing for television where she wrote for M*A*S*H, Hill Street Blues, Moonlighting, Judging Amy, and The Good Wife, and more.

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