Celebrating 50 years: Msgr. McManus

The Miscellany profiles the three priests who will celebrate this year the 50th anniversary of their ordination to the priesthood: Rev. Jerome C. Powers, Rev. Msgr. J. Fleming McManus and Rev. Msgr. John A. Simonin

Rev. Msgr. J. Fleming McManus

Msgr. J. Fleming McManus was ready to be ordained when he was too young to be a priest and has served the Diocese of Charleston for the half century since. He served in pastoral roles and as a diocesan official during all that time — and loved every minute of it.

“I have never had an unhappy day in my priesthood,” Msgr. McManus said. “My favorite parish was wherever I was stationed at the time. I made a commitment to obedience and reverence to my bishop.”

That commitment led to pastoral positions in 10 parishes across South Carolina and key jobs with the diocese. He served as pastor at St. Mary in Yonges Island, St. Patrick in Charleston, St. Joseph in Charleston, St. Paul the Apostle in Spartanburg, St. Andrew in Myrtle Beach and Blessed Sacrament in Charleston.

The golden jubilarian was superintendent of schools for 11 years and director of the Diocesan Development Fund for two decades; he was also rector of the diocesan cathedral. He has been associated with Catholic education in nearly all of his many assignments.

Fleming McManus began his association with the Diocese of Charleston when his mother enrolled him in the Cathedral School three months before his fifth birthday. He graduated from Bishop England High School when he was 15.

McManus did his seminary work in Maryland and postgraduate theology study at the Catholic University of America. When he came back to Charleston he was only 22 and needed a dispensation to be ordained on June 21, 1947 (priests were supposed to be at least 25 years of age then). Toward the end of the ordination rite, Bishop Emmet Walsh asked him if he would swear obedience and reverence to him and to his successors.

“The answer is libenter, which translates as ‘gladly’ but has a much broader meaning than that,” Msgr. McManus said. “That’s the priesthood to me, that’s where you find happiness. It’s that simple.”

He was priest long before and since the great council of Vatican II, but said that the transition was both commonsensical and enjoyable. He feels that the future of Catholicism is as bright as its past: “The church in the 21st century will be an excellent place to live. It will survive and blossom and flower.”

Msgr. McManus admits that the Carolina culture has been modified over the years of his service and that he now has to ask altar servers for the maiden names of their grandmothers in order to identify their families, but the aspect of his priestly career that he likes best remains unchanged — the Mass. He celebrates the sacrifice of the Mass wherever a priest is needed. That includes the Saturday evening liturgy at the motherhouse of the Sisters of Charity of Our Lady of Mercy on James Island and on a fill-in basis at parishes all over the Lowcountry.

Some days he celebrates Mass in his own living room, in the very house where his mother lived before she died in 1982. His brother Bernard bought the house for his mother and then kept it for the priest’s retirement. In addition to a solid cherry altar and antique furniture of the same wood, the room contains the straightback chair that Msgr. McManus used as a child. Through his front window he can see the campus of St. Joseph’s Church, which the parish built when he was pastor there from 1966-72.

“This is really coming home,” he said.

Msgr. J. Fleming McManus has not strayed far from his home, not from the house nor from the church he has served for 50 years. He said that he has never found the priesthood to be a lonely life and recommended that anyone attempting to discern a priestly vocation ask himself: “Do you possess a spontaneous generosity? Are you willing to give completely of yourself?”

That’s a question that this priest of the Diocese of Charleston has been answering affirmatively by his life for most of the second half of the 20th century. And he still has more to give.