Q&A: From sports news to the Good News

Meet Mark Haas, the new Public Relations Director for the archdiocese

Aaron Lambert

Mark Haas thought he would be a sports anchor for much of his career. God had other plans.

Now, Haas is the new Director of Public Relations for the Archdiocese of Denver — a position that the communications office for the archdiocese has never traditionally had. Haas has enjoyed a fruitful career as a TV sports anchor — including a four-year stint on CBS 4 here in Denver — and brings a unique skillset to the archdiocese.

So how did Haas go from being a sports anchor covering the Denver Broncos on Super Bowl 50 to the director of public relations for the Archdiocese of Denver? We sat down with him to find out.

Denver Catholic: What sort of background do you come from?

Mark Haas: I grew up in Fort Collins and became very interested in the combination of sports and media, so I wanted to create a career out of that. I went to the University of Southern California, and then spent the next 12 years working my way through small television markets, with stops in St. George, Utah, Los Angeles, Bakersfield, Calif., and then four years here in Denver at CBS 4. I’ve spent my career working on the media side, so I have an understanding of how newsrooms work and I’m hoping that in this role, knowing how journalists work will help me to spread the stories and message of the Church in northern Colorado.

DC: How does a sports anchor end up as a PR director for the Catholic Church?

MH: I was born and raised Catholic, and like a lot of young adults, I went through some ups and downs in terms of my faith, but in the tough times, I’ve always been drawn back to a relationship with the Church and with God. Especially within the last year – I thought I was going to have a long career doing sports television. It was something I liked, it was something I enjoyed, it was something I thought I was good at. But I was faced with an unexpected job loss, and looking at what was important to me in terms of staying in Colorado, starting my family here and wanting to find a career that had value, I really turned the situation over to God. To best of my ability, I said, “Whatever you have planned for me next, I’ll do.” Through a long process of applying for jobs, interviewing for jobs, and trying to figure out what my skills could translate to, I ended up at the archdiocese and found a group of people that saw some value in my previous experiences and how I could translate them into some new experiences. There was a disappointment in leaving a career I loved, but there is excitement now in getting to start a new chapter and work for my Church and work in a capacity where I can better live and grow my faith.

DC: What are your goals as the PR director for the archdiocese?

MH: I think that for a long time local news coverage, in general, focused mostly on negative stories, but I’ve seen that start to change and local media give more attention to positive stories, and is there any better news than the news of Jesus Christ? My goal is to help highlight some of the great things that are happening in the Catholic Church and to make sure people are aware of the services that are offered by the Catholic Church.

I’ve also seen in my career, that many people have a negative opinion of the media and are hesitant to trust them, but it’s been my experience with the reporters, anchors and journalists I’ve worked with that they sincerely want to do a good job – they want to tell fair and truthful stories. So, my goal is to bridge the gap and be a great liaison between the media and Catholic Church, helping the local outlets do their job, and inviting them to tell our great stories.

DC: Who’s the most famous person that you’ve met?

MH: Peyton Manning. Peyton was very smart with the media and he knew how to avoid questions that he didn’t like. During tough times with the Broncos, he had a way of making a joke that we would all kind of bite on and that would become the headline as opposed to talking about the struggles with the team. He was very skilled – but professional – with the media.

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.