Once Upon a Time: The end of an era at The East Tennessee Catholic? Maybe not yet

Monsignor Xavier Mankel takes a step back from his duties as a columnist and peer reviewer                                        

By Bill Brewer

A phrase often overused is “the end of an era.”

Shoppers staying at home and buying their Christmas gifts online instead of crowding the malls and outlet stores might be a trend reversal, but not the end of an era – at least not yet.

Likewise, if I decided to stop reading daily newspapers or The East Tennessee Catholic in their printed format in favor of the digital versions read on smart phones, tablets, and laptops, I might be tempted to call that the end of an era. The Millennials and I may disagree on this one, but to me that doesn’t yet constitute a seismic shift in behavior worthy of public notice. The only ones who would notice are my wife, my Millennial son (undoubtedly remarking “what took you so long?”), and the guy who delivers my morning paper, who can rest easy because I’m not even close to ending an era or reversing a trend.

But Monsignor Xavier Mankel definitely ended an era when he decided to shift gears and step back from his daily priest duties while suspending his monthly column, “Once Upon a Time.” He also is taking a hiatus from being the peer reviewer for The East Tennessee Catholic. As peer reviewer, Monsignor Mankel for years edited the paper with the finest of fine-tooth combs.

The monsignor has been a walking, talking era in the Diocese of Knoxville and the Catholic Church in Tennessee. Now retired as an active priest, the vicar general has watched the Church grow from the barely perceptible presence of a handful of East Tennessee parishes when he was a young boy, to the slow, methodical move into the suburbs through the decades, and now to an East Tennessee Church bursting at the seams with 51 parishes and missions, nearly 90 priests, more than 100 deacons, sisters, and brothers, 10 Catholic schools, and nearly 70,000 registered parishioners.

Monsignor Mankel, born in 1935 and ordained a priest in 1961, has served the Church across Tennessee at almost every level, as an associate pastor, pastor, administrator, rector, teacher, principal, and chancellor. The reverend monsignor has been a vicar general of the diocese since its founding, and Pope Benedict XVI honored him by appointing him a Prelate of Honor to His Holiness.

But it is as a columnist and an editor of The East Tennessee Catholic that he has labored with love. Printer’s ink runs in Monsignor Mankel’s blood. He comes by it honestly. His father, George W. Mankel, spent a career – 49 years – in advertising with the Knoxville News Sentinel.

Monsignor Mankel’s interest in and appreciation for newspapering, together with his mastery of the English language honed through Catholic education and teaching, has helped sustain The East Tennessee Catholic. As peer reviewer, Monsignor Mankel has edited nearly every issue of the diocese’s newspaper (and now a magazine, too) over its 25-year history.

To be more precise, Monsignor Mankel has edited more than 500 editions of The East Tennessee Catholic.

Writing a regular column on the history of the Church, with a focus on East Tennessee, was a foregone conclusion. And through the years Monsignor Mankel has shared his considerable insight with readers through Once Upon A Time. Whether retracing the steps of Church leaders in Rome or Diocese of Knoxville leaders in Athens, Monsignor Mankel always placed the advancement of Catholicism in proper perspective and context.

The insight Monsignor Mankel has shared was born of experiences serving the Church in Memphis, Middle and East Tennessee. The monsignor was instrumental in founding the Diocese of Knoxville, even having a seat at the table when the Diocese of Knoxville was officially separated from the Diocese of Nashville.

And he chronicled, with passion, a lifetime of Church developments in his column. That passion will continue, only in a different format. You will still see Monsignor Mankel at Masses, where he will concelebrate, and at diocesan priest and leadership meetings.

Recent health setbacks have limited his mobility, but he is hopeful that therapy will allow him to resume writing and editing for The East Tennessee Catholic.

“Newspapers have been a big part of my life. For years I helped my dad with his advertising, and in college I wrote a column for the college newspaper,” he said, acknowledging that although he has a passion for newspapering, his first love outside of the priesthood is automobiles and rebuilding engines.

Monsignor Mankel recalls when he first began assisting The East Tennessee Catholic soon after it began publishing in 1991. His knowledge of the Church and its new diocese, as well as his historical and liturgical acumen together with his newspaper background, made him a natural fit.

And for more than two decades he and his red pen confirmed facts and marked errors in countless stories, making them fit for print. He often would pore over page proofs the night before the newspaper went to press in the after-hours silence of the Chancery, often accompanied by his mother, Willia Mankel, who passed away in 2015 at age 103. He would leave behind the thoroughly edited proofs for final edits to be made before press time.

His tenure as peer reviewer and columnist was in addition to his daily responsibilities as a parish priest.

“It has been a labor of love and a chore. A good side-effect was I had already read the paper when it came out. And I read every syllable before publication,” he said.

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