There is Gratitude in Grief: A Reflection on Gerard Mannion

By: Taraneh Wilkinson

September 23, 2020

Changing the Church: The Legacy of Gerard Mannion

When Gerard Mannion first took up his post at Georgetown, I had already completed all my graduate coursework. I could have easily failed to ever interact with him. However, I saw how he worked with other graduate students, sensed what he stood for, and so determined to find a way to work with him. It was an opportunity of a lifetime I had no intention of passing up. Lucky for me, he agreed to be on my dissertation committee, but not before insisting on lunch and a proper conversation. As many of you know first hand, the man had a much-welcomed talent for humanizing the academic experience. That first encounter sitting across the table from Gerard discussing life, dissertation, and the principles of being a vegetarian, I felt supported, welcomed, seen. His generosity and compassion in taking me on as a student meant the world to me. And I am not exaggerating when I say that his guidance in those last, desolate years of dissertation writing was one of the few things that got me through the process.

Despite being perpetually busy with research, teaching, life, Ecclesiological Investigations, he always found time to support and celebrate my own journey from studenthood to professional independence, offering invaluable publishing and networking tips all with good cheer and balanced realism. Truly, he was a warm and kind mentor, even if his standards were exacting. Gerard was more than just warm; he was a furnace of activity, drawing people together, eliciting excellence from those around him. He understood the power of human connection and was ever ready to help others connect and grow together. He taught me that I should never underestimate the power of taking time to have dinner and discuss life with colleagues, that not only does it boost morale but it also gives rise to some of the best research ideas. I cherish this lesson. I plan to practice it, at least in some form, for the rest of my life.

When I remember him, I first think of all the people I have met and grown with because of him. For instance, he introduced me to scholars at Fscire in Bologna and encouraged me to apply for a postdoctoral fellowship there. The companionship of those I came to call colleagues in Bologna proved to be a transformative and precious gift that I would have never known had Gerard not been such a proactive and thoughtful mentor. When he arrived in Bologna for the annual EuARe conference in early 2019, again, his company meant being surrounded by the warmth of sincerity of an entire clutch of colleagues, including friends. When I think of Gerard, I cannot help but conjure up the spirit of conviviality and inclusive community. 

Another thing I will never let myself forget is that he lived his ethical and theological values. He did not merely speculate on abstract theological truths. Theology was no spectator sport for Gerard. It was serious, rigorous, and concrete. I loved this about him. He was courageous enough to look at the world head on without flinching and take on its beauty and its brokenness. He was critical and hopeful all at once. Better still, he was willing to be a force in the world for change—never content to sit still or shy from service. And to this end he worked with near superhuman diligence. Many years ago, before I was ever at Georgetown, when I first decided to take up theological studies, I did not know who Gerard Mannion was. Nonetheless, I can say that he is exactly the kind of person I imagined and hoped to encounter, someone committed to service, committed to positive change, courageous, devoted to the common good, someone fully, vibrantly alive and human. I am so grateful to have known him and to have witnessed some of the light he endeavored to bring into the world. I miss him.

I miss him, and yet I struggle to accept that he is gone. It’s no surprise to feel as if he can’t have possibly left. After all, he has touched so many people, brought so many people together. His impact and his legacy live on. It is hard to think of someone as absent when their work is so very much alive. He isn’t gone, but there will be no more fraternizing with Mannion and colleagues after a conference. That part at least is gone now except in memory. I miss his biting wit and his infectious spirit. I miss his stories, which always seemed to combine the poignancy of life in all its rawness with the sophistication of a world-class thinker and traveler. I miss his whirlwind of energy. I miss many things about him, as I’m sure many of you do as well. I am sad, but I am grateful to have known him.

Opens in a new window