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Vale Fr Paul Mankowski S.J. (1953 - 2020)

7 September 2020

The Caroline Chisholm Library community joins many in prayer and sorrow at the news of the sudden death of Fr Paul Mankowski S.J. this week.

To call him an outstanding and incisive man of letters would be to radically understate the man.

At the time of his sudden death, Fr Mankowski, had been Scholar-in-Residence at the Lumen Christi Institute augmenting the courses at the University of Chicago and offering popular classes in scripture, ethics and the humanities.

He was born in South Bend Indiana, and worked summer jobs at the US Steel South Works (now closed) in Chicago a few miles south of his university. He never lost his respect for the working man or woman. His adult life was one of outstanding academic achievement. He completed an M.A. from Oxford and a PhD in Semitic Philology from Harvard University. He was a lecturer for many years at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome. He was most well known for his many sharply crafted articles on literature, language and the life of the Church.

Most will remember him as an outstanding priest, whose devotion to the faith and to the Catholic Church was both clear-eyed and outspoken.

Fr Mankowski visited Melbourne a number of times, lecturing and speaking to John Paul II Institute of Marriage and Family and to Catholic clergy meetings. His talk to the Australian Confraternity of Catholic Clergy on the Priest as Evangelical Witness conveys the power of his own witness.

All his classes and his talks were characterised by his brilliant insights, his erudition and his incisive wit, which often shot, unexpectedly across the bows of pretention, dissembling and puff.

His was a muscular and discipled faith. He was courageously committed to truth telling (which cost him dearly) but also to undemonstrative and generous pastoral charity. He had a great gift of forming and keeping friends. Fr Mankowski lived religious poverty without comment or display - often spending his holidays serving the poorest of the poor with the sisters of the Missionaries of Charity.

In 2003 he delivered a memorable lunchtime talk which was given to a full-house at the Caroline Chisholm Library : Catholic Liturgy and the Language of Worship. His concluding lines stayed long in the memories of those attending the talk:

At each mass we pray to the Lord. ‘Look not on our sins but on the faith of your Church.' Surely, it is not too much to believe that God grants this petition; that in our worship he sees not the putting and stubbornness of men, but his Bride, the Church, at prayer; that contemplative nuns, and theologians, and steelworkers and even three-year olds face-to-face with an empty tabernacle are formed by this consummate priesthood into a single, acceptable Body: without spot, without wrinkle, without apricot Dacron polyester.

To get some sense of his superb ability to get inside the pith of language, its importance and some insight into the expansive culture of Fr Mankowski’s mind - see his tribute to Evelyn Waugh.

Former Prime Minister Tony Abbot remembers his long-standing friendship with Fr Paul from his student days at Oxford, calling Fr Mankowski the “most striking man” of his acquaintance.