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Obituary: Msgr. Paul J. McManus, Boston's oldest priest dies at 100


Msgr. Paul J. McManus Pilot file photo

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When Paul J. McManus was born in Boston on June 6, 1916, the youngest of the three sons of the late Patrick and Mary (Donnelly) McManus, Benedict XV was the pope; Woodrow Wilson was the US President; Tsar Nicholas II was still on his Russian throne; the VI Olympic games were cancelled because of the outbreak of the "Great War" later World War I; and William Cardinal O'Connell was reigning as archbishop of Boston.

The family lived in St. Thomas Aquinas Parish, Jamaica Plain, where the boys attended the parish elementary school before going on to Boston College High School, then in the South End. Paul was a member of the class of 1933. He went out to Chestnut Hill and was graduated from Boston College in the class of 1937. The family moved to St. Theresa of Avila Parish in West Roxbury and Paul entered St. John's Seminary, following in the steps of his oldest brother James, who had been ordained to the priesthood on May 22, 1935 by Cardinal O'Connell. Their middle brother, John following the same early educational track through college went on to medical school and became a doctor.

Following his ordination by auxiliary Bishop Richard J. Cushing at Holy Cross Cathedral on May 1, 1942, Father McManus was appointed an assistant at St. Margaret Mary Parish in Westwood. His appointment letter was signed by William Cardinal O'Connell, then Boston's archbishop. Msgr. McManus was the last surviving priest ordained during the episcopate of Cardinal O'Connell.

It is worth noting that all of Msgr. McManus's subsequent assignments both in the archdiocese and during his period of lend lease (1984-1991) were in parishes: Our Lady of Lourdes, Jamaica Plain (1947-1957); St. Catherine of Siena, Norwood (1957-1964); and St. Mary of the Annunciation, Cambridge (1964-1968), in these as an assistant. On May 15, 1968 he was named pastor of St. Angela Merici parish in Boston's Mattapan section. On July 20, 1969, Blessed Paul VI named him a domestic prelate with the title of Rev. Msgr. On Aug. 28, 1973, Humberto Cardinal Medeiros named him pastor of Immaculate Conception Parish in Malden, where he would serve until November 1980.

While he was assistant in Jamaica Plain, his oldest brother Father James J. McManus died suddenly at the age of 42. Following his ordination in 1935, the older Father McManus had served as an assistant at St. Thomas Aquinas, Bridgewater; Immaculate Conception, Marlborough and St. Mary of the Assumption, Brookline prior to volunteering as a chaplain with the US Army during World War II. In 1946 he completed his chaplaincy service and returned to the archdiocese as associate Director of Boys' Guidance Center in Boston; and then as an assistant at St. Ann in Boston's Readville section and at St. Theresa of the Child Jesus, Watertown. In spite of his youthful age, 40, in 1949 he was named administrator of St. Mary Parish in Franklin. In 1950, Archbishop Cushing plucked him from the parish designating him the executive director of the Archdiocesan Construction Board. His task was to oversee the massive building plans for parishes, schools and institutions of the archdiocese which were germinating and growing in Archbishop Cushing's fertile mind. He died on Sept. 16, 1951.

Another difficult year for Father Paul McManus was 1960, when his father Patrick, one time New England manager of First National stores, died on May 16 and his mother Mary died on Aug. 18 at 87; he celebrated both funeral Masses at Sacred Heart Parish in Newton to where the family had recently moved.

In 1984, he was on lend lease to the then diocese of Nassau in the Bahamas, where he was an associate and administrator at St. Mary Star of the Sea, Freeport; and later pastor of St. Paul the Apostle in Lyford Cay. During this time, his middle brother Doctor John McManus died on Jan. 9, 1989 at age 78.

Bernard Cardinal Law granted him senior priest retirement status on June 6, 1991. In the initial years of his retirement he remained in the Bahamas, returning to the archdiocese in 1998 and residing in West Roxbury; some years later he moved to Youville House in Cambridge, and then to Regina Cleri, where he died on Oct. 16.

During his years at Regina Cleri visitors could rely on his rich inventory of stories from his student years at BC; his various parish assignments or his vivid memories of his seminary classmates and priest friends.

To provide a perspective on Msgr. McManus's amazing longevity -- he was lucid and alert until just a few months ago -- celebrating his 100th birthday in June a few notes follow.

He lived during the pontificates of nine pope: Benedict XV, Pius XI, Pius XII, St. John XXIII, Blessed Paul VI, John Paul I, St. John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis. He was a priest during the episcopates of all of Boston's archbishops who were cardinals: O'Connell; Cushing, Medeiros, Law and O'Malley.

He was graduated from Boston College just before it turned 75; his student years at the Heights (1933-1937) and his years as an alumnus (1937-2016) total 83, well more than half the years of BC's existence.

He lived in the terms of 17 of the 44 of US presidents: Wilson, Harding, Coolidge, Hoover, Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush, and Obama. In his 11 decades he lived in two millennia (second and third) and in two centuries (20th and 21st).

Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley (the cardinal was still two years from birth when Msgr. McManus was ordained a priest) was the principal celebrant of Msgr. McManus's funeral Mass on Oct. 25 at St. Joseph Church in Boston's West End. Father Francis Cloherty, senior priest of the archdiocese, was the homilist of the Mass. Among the others concelebrating were Father Bryan K. Parrish, archdiocesan vicar for clergy; Father Joseph Fagan, Regina Cleri; and Father Gabriel Troy, St. Mary of the Annunciation, Cambridge.

Following the Funeral Mass, Msgr. McManus was buried in St. Joseph Cemetery, West Roxbury.

[Ed. -- Mr. Patrick E. O'Connor, Pilot stringer, also contributed to Msgr. McManus's obituary.]

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