Catholic Charities to honor priest for community service

Catholic Charities to honor priest for community service

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For 40 years Msgr. Michael Mannion has devoted his service as a priest to his community, children in need, pilgrims, refugees and countless others who felt hopeless and lost. He’s built community homes from the ground up, advanced his studies in Rome, counseled people in need in war-torn Uganda and served alongside Mother Teresa in the streets of Kolkata, formerly known as Calcutta, in India.

His passport shows the stamps of 30-plus countries, but if you asked Msgr. Mannion what his most significant journey was, he’d likely say, “learning about so many different situations in life and throughout these years — which combined — have allowed me to become a better priest and servant to God.”

Born and raised in Camden County, Msgr. Mannion remembers his family’s strong values and early influence on him through praying the rosary daily and attending Mass each Sunday.

In first grade at St. Cecilia’s in Pennsauken, Msgr. Mannion struggled with keeping his attention on his studies. Consequently he repeated the first grade — at public school, Amon Heights — based on his mother’s decision.

Although his early elementary education through the church was a challenge, Msgr. Mannion felt his calling as early as high school, where he attended minor seminary at Mother of the Savior Seminary High School in Blackwood. He set off to pursue his college studies by trekking north and west to Mount St. Paul College in Waukesha, Wis. It was there that a community service project prompted his desire to serve others.

“We built Discovery House, which is an amazing facility catering to young people with special needs — everything from spina bifida, Down syndrome, those in wheelchairs and more — and the mission of the house was to help families in need,” Msgr. Mannion says.  “It was through that project that I felt a greater calling and really felt I was doing God’s work.”

He expected to begin seminary in the Washington Metropolitan Area, but instead headed to Italy, where he studied at Gregorian University in Rome.

“During that time I worked on the streets, supporting the nuns with their work — ranging from fixing mud huts to tutoring others,” he explains.  One day Msgr. Mannion was directed to pick up “some nun,” a leader to the ones he had been working alongside of in the streets.

“I was happy to do so — I had a motorcycle at the time,” he says with a glint in his eye.  “Fortunately, I was given a vehicle and that passenger turned out to be Mother Teresa —someone who had a tremendous impact on millions around the world — including me.”

He was encouraged to visit Mother Teresa in India during some of its most war-torn days.

“When the good people of Rome heard about this, there was $500 left at the doorstep of the seminary, so I could take those funds and help the people of India in their time of need,” he remembers.

He was ordained a priest in Rome, receiving his first assignment in St. Ann Church in Westville, where he fondly recalls his days heading up an active youth program. The program began with a handful of children and quickly grew because “it was such a positive social atmosphere for the kids, where they were free to be themselves outside of school and their cliques.”

Msgr. Mannion spoke at the National Right to Life event in 1983 and two years later he wrote his first book, “Abortion & Healing … A Cry To Be Whole,” which focused on post-abortion healing.

“It’s funny, whenever I hesitated about anything or wasn’t sure from the beginning, such as my invitation to study for the priesthood in Rome, I look back and realize those events turned out to be the most influential experiences of my life,” he says.   “Coincidences are God’s way of being anonymous,” Msgr. Mannion says.

“Whether he’s serving the people in the Diocese of Camden or someone in a country on the other side of the world, Msgr. Mannion provides compassion, hope and words of comfort to those whose lives he touches,” says Kevin Hickey, executive director, Catholic Charities, Diocese of Camden. “We’re delighted to present him with the Sister Grace Nolan Award for Social Ministry in recognition of his tremendous service, commitment and embodiment of God’s work.”

The 2011 Annual Justice for ALL Dinner will take place at Adelphia Grand Ballroom in Deptford on Thursday, April 28, at 5:30 p.m. Tickets are $95 per person. All proceeds will be used to provide direct assistance to clients in all six counties of the diocese: Atlantic, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Gloucester and Salem.

For more information on tickets or sponsorship opportunities, call Giovina Price, 856-583-6126, or visit www.CatholicCharitiesCamden.org.

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