Bishop-elect Rodriguez through his family’s eyes

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When Bishop-elect Jorge Rodriguez was six years old his parents took a trip to Mexico City, and when they asked their son Jorge what he wanted as a gift, he asked them to bring him a crucifix.

“That was the first sign of his embracing Christ,” his older sister Ligia Rodriguez told El Pueblo Católico.

The bishop-elect is the fifth of six children: Jose Ramon, Nery Beatriz (Betty), Pilar, Ligia, Jorge and Maria del Carmen (Carmina). El Pueblo Católico was able to speak with his family, who all reside in their hometown of Merida, located on the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico.

Ligia recalls that, as many children who feel called by God at a young age, “Jorgito” played Mass, and in particular he liked to celebrate the sacrament of matrimony. She also noted that all the children were taken to catechism class, “but he was the only one who finished the course!”

Jose Ramon spoke about Jorge’s solidarity with the poor: “My parents gave to the poor, but [Jorge] did what he could to make sure the help arrived to the poorest of the poor. If given the opportunity, he would give away his new shoes. I had the opportunity to accompany him and I met some of the families he helped. He was very quiet and did not keep track of what he did. Many times we didn’t even know until much later.”

Despite being a pious young child, Jorge surprised his family with the news that he was going to study to be a priest. “We thought that he had already forgotten,” Beatriz recalled.

“When he told us that he wanted to be a priest, it gave me such joy because out of all of us he was the one who was choosing the best path,” Ligia recalls. Nonetheless, his sister, who is three years older, said she missed him a lot because “he was the one who accompanied me to parties and dances.”

In 1987, Jorge was ordained to the priesthood in Rome as a priest of a religious congregation (the Legionaries of Christ). Four of his siblings traveled to Rome for the ordination. Carmina note that during the Mass she, and another sister, felt the presence of their father, who had died five years earlier. “We are confident that this was the presence of my father, who accompanied us from heaven.”

Carmina will be the only sibling to not attend the episcopal ordination in November, as she will stay to care for their Neri, who for health reasons and age (97 years), is not able to travel. “But we will be there in our hearts,” Carmina said.

When asked for a little insight into the person of Jorge Rodriguez, Ligia said that she is someone she admires, because he is “very strict and very firm in his convictions, yet is very cheerful and likes to joke.”

Jose Ramon admires “the affection that surrounds my brother”: “It must be very difficult detach oneself from one’s family, but he has a much bigger one now,” referring to the faithful that Jorge attends to daily in his priestly ministry.

His five siblings agree that the bishop-elect knows very well how to combine his affable and joking nature with firmness in his convictions and character.

Pilar told the Denver Catholic how they all went to the beach once as a family, and they had brought her 12-year-old grandson with some of his friends: “My grandson wanted to confess to him, and soon all of his friends were making a line. All of this because [my grandson] told them [Father Jorge] was ‘cool’ to confess to! To this day, those boys continue to ask for Father Jorge, and they are now 20 and 21 years old!”

Bety related that her brother is a “a man of integrity”: “He does not like things done half-way, and he is very charitable. He is very dedicated and happy in his vocation,” and she added that when she learned that he had been appointed auxiliary bishop of Denver, “I started jumping up and down with excitement!”

After speaking by phone with all the siblings of the future bishop, El Pueblo Católico received a voice mail from Father Jorge’s mother, Nery Novelo: “I congratulate Jorge very much on his appointment. May God help him very much. Here I wait for him.”

COMING UP: A man for strengthening others

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When the choirs of angels led Father Paul Mankowski, SJ, into the Father’s House on September 3, I hope the seraphic choirmaster chose music appropriate to the occasion.  Had I been asked, I would have suggested the Latin antiphon Ecce sacerdos magnus as arranged by Anton Bruckner. The all-stops-pulled moments in Bruckner’s composition, deploying organ, brass, and full choir, would have been a perfect match for Paul Mankowski’s rock-solid Catholic faith, his heroic ministry, and his robust literary and oratorical style; the a capella sections, softly sung, mirror the gentleness with which he healed souls. Above all, I would have suggested Bruckner’s motet because Father Mankowski truly was what the antiphon celebrates: “a great priest who in his days pleased  God.”

We were friends for some 30 years and I can say without reservation that I have never met anyone like Paul Mankowski. He was off-the-charts brilliant, an extraordinary linguist and scholar; but he wore his learning lightly and was a tremendous wit. He rarely expressed doubts about anything; but he displayed a great sensitivity to the doubts and confusions of those who had the humility to confess that they were at sea. He could be as fierce as Jeremiah in denouncing injustice and dishonesty; but the compassion he displayed to spiritually wounded fellow-priests and laity, who sought healing through the work of grace at his hands, was just as notable a feature of his personality.

His curriculum vitae was singular. The son of working-class parents, he put himself through the University of Chicago working summers in a steel mill. He did advanced degrees at Oxford and Harvard, becoming the sparring partner of a future Australian prime minister, Tony Abbott, at the former, and delving deeply into the mysteries of Semitic philology – unfathomable, to most of his friends – at the latter. He taught at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome and was pastor of an English-speaking parish in Amman, Jordan. Wherever he was, he lived like a true ascetic; he was also the best company imaginable at a meal or a party.

He was a writer of genius, although his published bibliography is considerably slimmer than it might have been, thanks to the years when he was silenced or censored by his religious superiors. A good example of his ability to combine keen insight and droll humor is his 1992 dissection of the goings-on at the annual convention of the American Academy of Religion (available here). More recently, Father Mankowski drew on his extensive experience as a confessor and spiritual director to pen, with his superiors’ permission, a respectful but sharp critique of his fellow Jesuit James Martin’s book, Building a Bridge (available here). In the decades between those two pieces, and when permitted to do so, he published essays and reviews on a wide range of topics, including literature, politics, Church affairs, biblical translations and the priesthood, while sharing his private musings with friends in a seemingly endless series of pungent parodies, revised song lyrics, and imagined news stories.

Years ago, his friend Father Richard John Neuhaus dubbed Father Mankowski one of the “Papal Bulls:” Jesuits of a certain generation notable for their intellectually sophisticated and unwavering Catholic orthodoxy, which often got them into hot water of various temperatures (including boiling) with their Ignatian brothers and superiors. Paul Mankowski was no bull, papal or otherwise, in a china shop, though. He relished debate and was courteous in it; what he found off-putting was the unwillingness of Catholic progressives to fight their corner with a frank delineation of their position. This struck him as a form of hypocrisy. And while Father Mankowski, the good shepherd, often brought strays back to the Lord’s flock, he was unsparingly candid about what he perceived as intellectual dishonesty, or what he recently deplored as “ignoble timidity” in facing clerical corruption. Paul Mankowski was not a man of the subjunctive, and he paid the price for it.

He is beyond all that now, and I like to imagine St. Ignatius of Loyola welcoming him to the Father’s House with a hearty “Well done, my son.” In this valley of tears, freshly moistened by those who mourn his untimely death at age 66, Father Paul V. Mankowski, SJ, will be remembered by those of us who loved him as a man and a priest who, remaining faithful to his Jesuit and sacerdotal vocations, became a tower of strength for others. This was a man of God. This was a man, whose courageous manliness reflected his godliness.