Then-Dr. Michael Manning, a seminarian at the time, greets Mother Teresa of Calcutta during her June 18, 1995 visit to St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral, Trenton. At left is Father Pablo Gadenz, priest of the Diocese and associate professor, Mount St. Mary Seminary and University, Emmitsburg, Md. Monitor file photo
Then-Dr. Michael Manning, a seminarian at the time, greets Mother Teresa of Calcutta during her June 18, 1995 visit to St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral, Trenton. At left is Father Pablo Gadenz, priest of the Diocese and associate professor, Mount St. Mary Seminary and University, Emmitsburg, Md. Monitor file photo
More than 25 years ago, during his later seminary days, Father Michael Manning was given a front seat for a special Mass at which Mother Teresa of Kolkata was present. “I had expected some profound advice from her, but what she gave was very simple, very direct and very important for everything that happens in ministry and life … ‘Do everything for Jesus Christ.’” 

Now celebrating 25 years of priesthood in the Diocese of Trenton, Father Manning acknowledged that his care and service for others began before his call to priestly ministry. For 17 years, Father Manning served as a medical doctor, having graduated SUNY Downstate Medical School in 1975 and worked as a gastroenterologist in Staten Island until 1992.

At some point he recognized his restlessness with his career choice, and with some reflection realized, “It wasn’t more of what I had that I wanted, it was something that I didn’t have and I really needed.”

Shortly thereafter, Father Manning responded to the call of the priesthood, entering St. Mary Seminary and University, Baltimore. He was ordained a priest in the Diocese of Trenton by Bishop John C. Reiss in May of 1997. An outgrowth of his studies was his book, “Euthanasia and Physician Assisted Suicide: Killing or Caring,” published by Paulist Press in 1998.

During his seminary studies and the early years of priesthood, Father Manning admitted missing some aspects of his medical career, namely “the responsibility and gravitas of being a doctor. And I missed the patients.” 

Father Manning channeled that desire for leadership and patient care into his work as the Respect Life coordinator for the Diocese, a post he said he, “didn’t feel prepared for.” But then, he said, “I realized that a lot of what I had done in medicine was helpful in dealing with issues of life and resuscitation and beginning of life. I became very much called to Respect Life the longer I served in that ministry.”

Father Manning’s skill in healing and human nature helped him lead recovery in two parishes – St. William the Abbott, Howell, where he served as temporary administrator and, later, as pastor, and in Holy Cross, Rumson, where he was named pastor in 2004. Previous financial scandals there had made national news headlines. He recalled, “people were so polarized, and hurt, and disappointed.” Thinking back, he felt he was able to turn the trauma into triumph by relying on a sense of persistence and call.

In September of 2015, Father Manning experienced one of the major highlights of his priesthood when the new church building at Holy Cross was dedicated. Though the building project had been in the works for many years, Father Manning was pleased to have had an integral part in the building process.

Reflecting on the priesthood, Father. Manning said, “It is still something that in a lot of ways a dreamer has to do. You can do things that never looked possible. If you do it for the right reasons – which is for Christ –then things are possible, not because of your efforts but because of the efforts of the Holy Spirit.”

With all of the wisdom he gleaned from both a career in medicine and now the priesthood, Father Manning reflected, “Things don’t last. The only thing that lasts is the Word and the Eucharist.” His counsel to any man considering a vocation to the priesthood is, “You have to really love Jesus Christ and his Church. If you dedicate yourself to those things, you are becoming part of something that will last. It is not a building, or a legacy, or one way of doing things. There is a humility in the face of everything that makes you want to be part of something that lasts forever but is not of your own making. I think that is a blessing that comes later in life.”