The pro-life cause is not just something Monsignor Michael Mannion believes in.
“It’s part of the air you breathe,” says the priest whose “day job” is director of community relations for the Diocese of Camden but whose credentials show him to be “one of the old men of the pro-life movement.”
The path Monsignor Mannion’s life has taken no doubt surprises some of those who knew him as a child, when he spent two years in first grade and was “always in trouble.” But even through his formative years in public school – after a tumultuous first year in Catholic school in his native New Jersey – he says he “tried to stay connected to the rituals and the practices of the church that had deep meaning.”
In college in Wisconsin, he not only played trombone in the dance band but also worked with handicapped kids. His discernment process confirmed “a feeling that this was what God was calling me to do.” When he was sent to study in Rome, he met Mother Teresa and began a 27-year relationship with her that would help shape his life.
“Everything around her shouted life,” he recalls, “even if you were immersed into a world of life surrounded by physical death.”
As a seminarian at Pontifical Gregorian University and Angelicum University, both in Rome, he took time off to join Mother Teresa in Calcutta, even though she told him not to. Thousands of refugees from the Bangladesh war for independence were flooding across India’s borders, and Monsignor Mannion found himself working among them, digging latrines and assisting at surgeries taking place on picnic tables. He also worked with lepers, cleaning their wounds and giving them the shots of sodium gluconate that help arrest the disease.
Monsignor Mannion also spent time in Africa, working with villagers in Uganda. Many of them later were slaughtered by the dictator Idi Amin.
Ordained in St. Peter’s Basilica in December 1971, the new priest came back to the states for his first assignment, at St. Ann’s Church in Westville, N.J. Almost immediately, he got involved with Birthright and the National Pro-Life Center. Leading retreats for high school and college students gave him a platform to spread the pro-life message to an estimated 30,000 kids in a few decades. He started doing post-abortion healing talks, which brought him into contact with Dr. Theresa Burke and inspired her to start Rachel’s Vineyard, a worldwide ministry for healing after abortion. He had also met Father Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life, a number of times over the years.
For seven years, Monsignor Mannion served as rector of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Camden. “I didn’t go out to play so much” during those busy years, he says with a laugh. He did maintain his extensive community involvement in Camden, and that involvement continues today. He is the chaplain for the New Jersey State Police, as well as the Camden County Police and Fire Marshals. He serves on the advisory board of the Rand Institute at Rutgers University and the public policy board of the University of Medicine and Dentistry’s School of Medicine.
In the last few years he has increased his involvement with Priests for Life and is now officially a Pastoral Consultant to the ministry.
Monsignor Mannion, who has written several books on abortion, including “Abortion & Healing: A Cry to be Whole,” lives in Pennsauken, N.J., where he was born.
“In my own life’s journey,” he says, “God uses every experience of the past to contribute to the ministry of the present, and the future.”