News of the passing of a good friend and fellow Jesuit naturally elicits memories and thoughts about the Jesuit vocation. One of the last times I was with Fr. Paul Mankowski was in Haiti. Along with two other Jesuit priests, we had gone to Port-au-Prince in 2017 to lead an annual retreat for twenty-four Missionaries of Charity.
The Sisters were grateful to be able to step away briefly from the intense work they do for the poor there. They were glad to have eight days of prayer. But, as usual, almost nothing was working in Haiti. It was sweltering. Bugs were everywhere, all the time. And the food was, shall we say, challenging.
It was no surprise that Fr. Mankowski had been eager to join our team. It was his first time in Haiti, but he had often given preached retreats to Mother Teresa’s community in eastern Europe and the Mideast during the time when he taught in Rome. He considered this sort of work a fruitful way to live out the Jesuit calling.
In recent years, I also spent time with Fr. Mankowski at a program he hosted for the Lumen Christi Institute—another venue for his Jesuit vocation. He had asked me to give a master class on Cardinal George’s book A Godly Humanism: Clarifying the Hope that Lies Within.
During the sessions, his own comments were razor-sharp. As was his wont, what he said advanced the discussion of various questions, even while encouraging students then just beginning their graduate education to find their own voices. From my own conversations with him, it was clear that he had deeply embraced this book.
The wit typical of Fr. Mankowski’s manner of sparring was not absent that day. On matters of doctrine, he insisted, the Church is rightly known for her clarity. Yet the Church is not primarily a matter of ideas but of relationships. At its heart is the relationship between Christ and believers and the relationship of believers united to one another in love and fidelity to God through the Church. As the book’s title suggests, this is what makes the Church a godly humanism rather than a secular one.
For me, to look back on these two recent activities is to contemplate Fr. Mankowski living his vocation as a Jesuit priest. As every Jesuit knows, we come to understand the nature of our vocation through the Spiritual Exercises, the Constitutions, and the letters of Saint Ignatius. Of special importance for laying out this charism is a document called The Formula of the Institute.
The Formula is drawn from the 1550 bull Exposcit debitum, by which Pope Julius III confirmed and amplified the initial approbation given to the Society in the 1540 bull Regimini militantis Ecclesiae. The picture of the Society painted in this document outlines its character as a priestly community engaged in evangelization and in the spiritual consolation of the faithful.
It is by reference to these goals that decisions are made about how each man is to live and how the Society as a whole is to operate. Shortly after the Society’s foundation, the Society decided to commit itself to education and establish schools. Schools were a way to provide a means for both evangelization and the pastoral care of the faithful, especially by hearing confessions, giving spiritual direction, and conducting retreats.
In his own service to the poor and in his priestly service to those serving the poorest of the poor, Paul relished the sunny hardships of Haiti. There he could offer spiritual counsel by way of the conversations that the hardworking, long-suffering Sisters need to have on their annual retreats. In every one of their chapels, beneath one of the arms of the crucifix, are the words “I thirst”—the words of Jesus from the cross that Mother Teresa understood to refer to his thirst for souls. The Sisters are committed to resilient cheerfulness for the sake of Christ. But like our Lord himself, they too need to draw away regularly for times of prayer, and they too need to be individually heard and encouraged. Fr. Mankowski was tireless. He knew well what it means to serve cheerfully and obediently, even when his own vow of obedience brought much suffering.
In our academic endeavors, too, there is a place for carrying out the directives of the Formula of the Institute. Its crucial passage states:
Whoever desires to serve as a soldier of God beneath the banner of the cross in our Society . . . should . . . keep what follows in mind. He is a member of a Society founded . . . to strive especially for the defense and propagation of the faith and for the progress of souls in Christian life and doctrine, by means of public preaching, lectures, and any other ministration whatsoever of the word of God, and further by means of the Spiritual Exercises, the education of children and unlettered persons in Christianity, and the spiritual consolation of Christ’s faithful, through hearing confessions and administering the other sacraments. Moreover, this Society should show itself no less useful in reconciling the estranged, in holily assisting and serving those who are found in prisons or hospitals, and indeed in performing any other works of charity, according to what will seem expedient for the glory of God and the common good.
Over the kitchen table in Port-au-Prince, Fr. Mankowski and I shared many a story about the surprising adventures to which our vocations had delivered us and the prospects for the Society of Jesus in the years ahead. One story that came to mind was about two of Ignatius’s early companions, Father Diego Lainez and Father Alfonso Salmeròn. These men served as periti at the Council of Trent. At meetings in the morning, they delivered the summaries they had prepared of Protestant documents the evening before, to assist with the formation of the conciliar documents. In the afternoons they served as needed in the city’s oespedali, bringing what comfort and spiritual consolation they could to the poor. The hope that lay within us then and now was that the Society would long be able to be faithful to the mind of Christ in such labors.
This our friend did so very well. Requiescat in pace.
Joseph Koterski, S.J., is professor of philosophy at Fordham University and editor of the International Philosophical Quarterly.
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