Father Joseph Blanco remembered for his servant’s heart, generosity

Rocio Madera

Father Joseph Blanco, a priest of 36 years for the Archdiocese of Denver, died peacefully May 13. He was 80 years old.

A Colorado native, Father Blanco lived his life demonstrating his generosity and humanity towards others, while serving the Lord. Father Blanco was born Jan. 22, 1940 and was raised in Glenwood Springs. Between 1958 and 1962, he served in the U.S. Air Force where he was honorably discharged. During his college years, he attended St. Thomas University in Houston, Texas, where he earned a B.A. in Liberal Arts and then entered the St. Thomas Seminary in Denver.

On June 2, 1984, Father Blanco was ordained a priest at the age of 44. The ceremony took place at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Denver and was celebrated by Archbishop James V. Casey.

As Father Blanco’s funeral Mass, Father Ken Koehler, pastor of St. Mark Parish in Westminster delivered the homily.

“I mainly got to know Father Joe when we were in the seminary,” said Father Koehler. “He was studying for the Holy Ghost Fathers at the time and eventually changed to the diocese of Denver. We became good friends when he was assigned to my home parish in Sterling, St. Anthony’s. There, he grew to fall in love with the rural community and parishes. He served them so very well and they loved him for his dedication and care.”

During his priesthood, he served in multiple parishes mostly on the Eastern Plains of Colorado including St. Anthony Parish in Sterling, Holy Family Parish in Keenesburg, and Our Lady of Lourdes in Wiggins, among others, earning the affection and respect of not only the rural community, but also of his fellow priests.

“His gentle and quiet personality was a charm. He never sought after glory or recognition and was humble in receiving so many accolades from the parishes he served,” said Father Koehler. “He remained a pastor in the rural community from then on to the time of his retirement. They loved his little and subtle jokes and always gave him support when he was growing more and more ill. I will have him as one of my special friends and people always remembered him.”

“My walk with the Lord wouldn’t be where it is if it wasn’t for him,” Stephanie Todd, Father Blanco’s niece, told the Denver Catholic of her uncle. “He planted seeds early on just about paying it forward and things that I’ve tapped into adulthood and passed on to my children.”

In June 2010, he was granted retirement at the age of 70 and spent the next few years as a humble servant of God always reaching out to those in need. After a long struggle with an illness, Father Joe passed away this past May 13 in Wheat Ridge, leaving behind beautiful memories to not only his loved ones, but also to all the communities he served during his time on earth.

“He was a wonderful minister and he certainly was one who desired to bring Jesus Christ to others… The Church is thankful and blessed for his ministry.” said Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila at Father Blanco’s funeral Mass.

For Stephanie Todd, her uncle left her a special mission: “To pass on the goodness of the Lord,” she said. “And it’s not always by word, but it’s more by action than word. And he showed me that.”

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.