Those of us who are former members of Holy Ghost Parish in Knoxville joined current members in receiving a letter in the mail this weekend. In that letter, Monsignor Xavier Mankel, OP, V.G., who has been Vicar General of the Diocese of Knoxville since its foundation in 1988, informed all of us who have been associated with Holy Ghost over the years that Bishop Stika has asked him to retire as pastor of Holy Ghost, effective June 30th. Based on the wording of Monsignor’s letter, I was rather left with the impression that the decision for him to retire as pastor was one made at the bishop’s request. If that is true, I very much suspect that this kind of a request was made with a concern for Monsignor Mankel’s health, which from what I understand hasn’t been the best in recent months. As I wrote at the conclusion of a post here on Life At 25 back in October, Monsignor suffered from congestive heart failure last year, and I know he continues to need our prayers. I pray for him and for all of our diocesan priests each day, and I would encourage everyone to do the same. While knowing that even our best priests have to slow down at some point in their ministries for the good of their health, sanity, and priestly calling and ministry, I can’t help but feel a tinge of sadness on the news of Monsignor Mankel’s retirement as pastor, as he has literally given his life for the sake of the Kingdom of God in East Tennessee. When Nicole and I first came to East Tennessee as husband and wife to live here, Monsignor Mankel welcomed us to the parish family at Holy Ghost with open arms.
A priestly ministry and life like that of Monsignor Mankel is an example to all priests and potential priests, but also to the whole people of God. Monsignor’s ministry has been one of a life of sacrifice and love for God’s people. I am thankful that he has given himself to the Lord, and he has blessed so many more others in so many different ways with his time, talents, ministry, and sometimes just the very gift of his presence. The people of Holy Ghost have truly been blessed to have a man who has a love both for the Lord and for the liturgy of the Church as pastor for so many years. I remember when it was clear the the new General Instruction On the Roman Missal would soon be a reality, Monsignor Mankel seemed giddy with excitement. I have always been grateful that the first priest that I developed something of a relationship with in East Tennessee was then-Father Mankel.
This time of year is always a time of change in our local Church, and in dioceses across the country and the world. May and June are traditionally the months when parishes that will be experiencing a change learn that they will be getting new pastors or associate pastors, and priests (and in some cases, even deacons) learn that they may be getting new pastoral assignments. Father John Dowling, for example, will be replacing Monsignor Mankel at Holy Ghost. Father Michael Cummins has learned that he will be the new pastor at St. Dominic in Kingsport, and the students at the Catholic Campus Ministry at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga will have a new campus minister. When we have the full list of new clerical assignments, we’ll have the rundown here at Life At 25.
Clerical and pastoral reassignment (and “retirement,” which does not mean you quit ministering) is a reality of ecclesiastical life.
When a man has answered God’s call to serve the Church through the Sacrament of Holy Orders, he answers the same question from God that the Prophet Isaiah did, and when the bishop ordains a man who has answered that call, the bishop is affirming that the Church believes that the man who is asking to be ordained has given the same answer to the Lord that Isaiah gave him in Isaiah 6:5-8:
And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”Then flew one of the seraphim to me, having in his hand a burning coal which he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth, and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin forgiven.” And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here am I! Send me.”
Those who answer the call to Holy Orders are truly sent. This is true whether the man in question is a deacon who is ordained and sent to minister in his own parish (or in a parish or ministry he was not expecting), a priest sent to a parish or a mission far from home, a bishop sent to a mission diocese in some far-flung and isolated place, or Jorge Mario Bergoglio being called to Rome for a conclave and never coming home again, not as the Archbishop of Buenos Aries.
When someone submits themselves in a spirit of prayerful obedience to God’s will and they accept a life of service to the Church as a large part of that will, they are accepting a certain reality that in embracing God’s call to ordained life, a man’s life is truly not his own any longer. For a priest, that means that he should live his life in radical imitation of Christ. He has no bride except for the Church, and he goes where he is needed-where he is sent. That sometimes means leaving communities of faith and ministries that he has grown to truly love to take up new ones where he is needed.
Pray for Monsignor Mankel, Father Cummins, Father Dowling, and all of our priests who will begin a new chapter in their priestly ministry this summer, and for the people who have been in their spiritual care, as well as those who will be in the future during this season of change for the Diocese of Knoxville.