Fr. Paul Mankowski, S.J.: A Tribute

In his intensity and single mindedness Paul reminded me of his founder, Ignatius of Loyola, the convert solider who changed the history of the Church after the Reformation.

(Image: Michael Bourgault |

Fr. Paul Mankowski lived his life in obscurity, but it is appropriate that his friends publicly acknowledge his private achievements at his death.

After reading Tony Abbott’s eloquent tribute, my instinct was that another Australian contribution might be one too many, but distance can not only bring a wider and different perspective but sometimes enables a greater freedom to acknowledge the prophet at home.

Paul and I first met in the 1990s when I was part of a small team of English-speakers from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to meet a delegation from the United States Bishops Conference on scripture translations into English; one more round in the struggle against ideological translations which strove to improve the original. Paul provided the most important briefing papers for us, at a level far superior to other advice that was tendered. I was entirely persuaded.

Paul was blunt and courageous, formidably clever even by Jesuit standards, a man of insight and forensic skill. All this before we consider his faith, regular prayer, fasting, and his capacity as a journalist. In his intensity and single mindedness Paul reminded me of his founder, Ignatius of Loyola, the convert solider who changed the history of the Church after the Reformation.

During his year of tertianship he researched the writings of Ignatius and discovered that Ignatius contemplated trying to find the most corrupt religious order of the time to join so that he could suffer more for Christ. We thank God he did not follow this path.

Tony Abbott mentioned that Paul was one of the most trenchant critics of his own Society of Jesus in the areas of both faith and morals. He vehemently loved Christ and his Church, lamented the Christian decline in the Western world, the most significant feature of our religious landscape, and regretted particularly the eclipse of the Jesuits as they lost around two thirds of their more than 30,000 1960’s membership.

This is an incalculable loss to the Church and society, both a cause and effect of the secularizing of the Western mind. Many of our religious orders will pass into history, but the Church cannot allow this to happen to the Jesuits. How it is to be prevented provides the challenge.

For decades Paul lived with differing levels of official disapproval. Probably some superiors hoped he would move to another area of Church life, but he rejected the option; others, especially more recently, treated him with dignity and justice. His choice was to stay and put up with the situation. His revelations from the archives of the contribution of Jesuit politician Fr. Robert Drinan to abortion legislation was not welcomed by the pro-abortion brigade. He was long prevented from taking the fourth vow, banned from writing (not always successfully) and reduced to teaching Greek and Hebrew at the Biblicum in Rome. His ambitions for the reform of the Order were not realized.

I don’t think Paul ever shared my hopes that Pope Francis, a Jesuit who had his own problems with his order, would be a significant agent for reform. This has not happened, although I don’t know the reasons for the Holy Father’s quiescence. Perhaps he believes the Jesuits must purify themselves as St John Paul’s efforts were unavailing.

Prophets do not usually make good religious superiors and I never saw Paul as a regional leader. But his choices represent the only way forward. Prayer, worship, faith in the one true God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, absolute obedience to the example and teachings of Jesus, God’s only Son (not just in poverty and social justice) and fidelity to the charism of Ignatius and Francis Xavier, which is not to be deconstructed or reduced and psychologized. Radical service, militant orthodoxy are the ideals, remembering the basic challenge is to faith even more than morals.

Paul also told me that Ignatius was warned, when he was writing the rule, about the dangers of the heavy centralization which is characteristic of the Jesuits, against the more dispersed models of authority, with greater levels of local autonomy of the Benedictine monks and the later Dominican and Franciscan friars. However, Ignatius persisted with this clear line of command.

When the central command is clear headed and resolute the regular weeding that is always needed can continue but when superiors become hostile to reform we have another situation and over the years I have never failed to marvel how sluggish non-performers can be galvanized into action to strangle good initiatives. On the other hand, I also saw what St John Paul the Great accomplished and know the first four hundred years of Jesuit history.

When I was in jail Paul wrote a couple of times, once quoting a 1989 talk of Professor John Finnis on St Thomas More’s condemnation in Westminster Hall in 1535, because this could better explain “the deeper meaning of the witness you have been called to give”.

He also endorsed Finnis’ view that the failure to take seriously Jesus’ claim to judge everyone on the last day “is the heart of the crisis of faith and morals: only if we do take it seriously can we experience a hope which goes beyond words to meet St Thomas More merrily in heaven”; and the newly arrived Jesuit Mankowski.

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About Cardinal George Pell 2 Articles
Cardinal George Pell is prefect emeritus of the Vatican Secretariat for the Economy.


  1. Father Paul Mankowski was a true holy father, and a manly priest.

    Because of priests like him, the Church remains in communion with The Son of the Living God.

    He gave himself as a complete sacrifice, to be worthy of the sacrifice of Our Lord Jesus.

    Father Mankowski, pray for us, that we may be made worthy servants of Our Lord Jesus.

  2. I am overjoyed to see the by-line “Cardinal George Pell. Overjoyed and thankful to God. This post inspires hope. We have a new advocate in heaven. Catholics, all Christians, all people of good will, take heart!

  3. “During his year of tertianship he researched the writings of Ignatius and discovered that Ignatius contemplated trying to find the most corrupt religious order of the time to join so that he could suffer more for Christ. ”

    And that is precisely what Fr Mankowski did. He found the most corrupt religious order to join and suffered more for Christ.

  4. Great to read about a manly, forthright and faithful priest. Sadly we poor lay Catholics see and hear from too few like him. Great also to hear again from Cardinal Pell, another forthright and manly member of the clergy. I pray every day that Cardinal Pell’s reputation as a good man and a faithful priest is fully restored and that those who maliciously and deceitfully worked to undermine his reputation are exposed for who and what they are; that justice will prevail.

    The laity desperately needs leaders like Cardinal Pell and Fr. Manskowski to inspire them, to restore confidence and reassure them about the truths of the faith. We need courageous and faithful priests who will stand up for the faith without compromise or ambiguity.

  5. A good priest who infiltrated the Jesuits to help reform it from within by the power of prayer and humility.
    Who knows the mind of God and the potentially wonderful witness and example Fr Paul gave his colleagues?

  6. When I was in religion (clerical confrater with the Passionists) the SJs were considered “the intellect of the Church” which, in conjunction with its Fourth Vow, represented a bulwark of strength and comfort for the Church. So sadly the Order has descended and deteriorated to incredible depths. For those ignorant of the decline of the SJs much insight can be gained from reading Fr Malachi Martin’s SJ, “The Jesuits”.
    God bless Fr Mankowski’s SJ soul.

  7. Grace a Dieu – Cardinal Pell is free & writing nicely about an obscure Jesuit Priest. (You gotta watch those obscure folks.)

    Movie – ‘A Hidden Life’. An obscure Austrian peasant refuses to say ‘Heil Hitler’, refuses to sign an oath of loyalty to Hitler, refuses to pay to help the ‘war effort’ when German soldiers visit his village, gets thrown in the slammer and eventually gets hung.

    Benedict XVI beatified him.

    BTW – The last time I asked them about it not only did Ignatius Press not have the movie – they hadn’t even heard of it. I had to get it through B&N.

    Sacre Bleu!!

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  1. Fr. Paul Mankowski, S.J.: A Tribute - Catholic Mass Search
  2. A few insights in Cardinal Pell's tribute to Father Mankowski - California Catholic Daily

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