Brother Donald Mansir, who was internationally recognized for his work in renovating the dome of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem in the 1990s, died early Saturday of cancer at John Muir Medical Center in Walnut Creek. The Christian Brother, a longtime professor at Saint Mary’s College and Bethlehem University in the Palestinian territories, was 62.
Brother Donald is remembered as a learned and diplomatic man with an intense interest in teaching young people and improving conditions for and bringing compassion to people of all faiths throughout the Middle East.
“He came through Saint Mary’s Integral Program as a student before he joined the Brothers, and this experience has certainly shaped his academic and intellectual career,” said SMC President Brother Ronald Gallagher. The Integral Program is the Saint Mary’s “College within the College,” a rigorous liberal arts education focusing on the classics and active inquiry.
“Here at the College over the last decade, Brother Donald has been a leader in shaping and articulating the Catholic Intellectual Tradition.” Brother Ronald continued. “This can be seen in his leadership of the Cummins Institute for Catholic Thought and Action. He has also been the director of the Saint Mary's College community of Brothers, and a wise and committed teacher. As a Brother Counselor (in the residence halls) and a teacher, he was a confidant to many students, and they have great affection for him.”
Brother Donald’s influence goes far beyond Saint Mary’s College. He was a Vatican adviser on Palestinian issues and president of the Pontifical Mission for Palestine during the 1990's. As such, he was involved in Jordan, Palestine, Israel and Lebanon, assisting in diplomatic and humanitarian missions. He also promoted interreligious dialogue between the Orthodox Christians and the Roman Catholics.
Brother Charles Hilken, a Saint Mary’s professor and current director of the Cummins Institute, said Brother Donald was “instrumental in bringing together parties traditionally unable to work together.”
“Most notable in this regard was the project (in the mid-1990s) of renovating the dome of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, one of the holiest shrines of Christianity,” Brother Charles recalled. “He served as intermediary between the separate Christian churches which shared jurisdiction, and he found the artist, Ara Normat, who did the work of restoration.”
The work was magnificent, and in 1994, Brother Donald was invested as a Knight of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem.
In an article he wrote for “Catholic Near East” in 1996, Brother Donald described the dome: “The approved design represents the glory of God enveloping the risen Christ. It consists of 12 streams of gold, representing the 12 Apostles. From each ray branch three streams of light, symbolizing the Trinity. Light from the dome’s central skylight, as well as from concealed artificial sources, adds glowing brilliance. The mother-of-pearl background, a reminder of the biblical description of the luminous cloud of the Divine Presence, brightens as it ascends. The artwork will draw the pilgrim’s eyes away from the tomb: as the angel declared, ‘Why do you seek the living among the dead?’ ”
A Life of Scholarship
Brother Donald is also remembered as a friend, teacher and colleague.
“What Brother Donald did for the College was truly remarkable,” said Scott Kier, SMC’s Dean of Students. “I am hopeful we can find a voice like his that can bridge the gaps beyond our mission and Catholic identity but he was able to articulate it in a manner that was able to bring folks together and could be understood by all.
“I know my life is better because he was a part of it, but he left sooner than I had hoped,” Kier added. “The College lost a colleague, the Christian Brothers lost a fellow Brother, and I lost my friend and mentor.”
Brother Donald received his bachelor’s degree in the Integral Program at Saint Mary’s in 1971, his master’s in education from the University of San Francisco in 1984, and a doctorate in theology, with an emphasis in theology of culture and Near Eastern studies, from the Union Institute and University in Cincinnati in 1999. He also has received a diploma in French from Laval University in Quebec City, Canada, in 1978.
Brother Donald has taught at Saint Mary’s College, at Saint Anthony of Padua Institute in Berkeley, Latin Patriarchal Seminary in the West Bank, and La Salle High School in Pasadena. He has also been the director of campus ministry at San Joaquin Memorial High School in Fresno and sub-director at the Christian Brother’s Mont La Salle Novitiate in Napa.
A kind and welcoming man with students, staff and faculty wherever he worked, Brother Donald was also a consultant and permanent representative for the United Nations and UNICEF, International Catholic Child Bureau, in Geneva, Switzerland. He was chief overseas operating officer of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association, in New York and Vatican City.
Brother Donald was also vice president and chief operating officer of the Pontifical Mission for Palestine, responsible for directing operations of regional offices in Amman, Beirut, Jerusalem and Vatican City, and on the staff of the Vatican's Apostolic Delegation to Jerusalem in the late 1980s. In addition, he was a Knight member of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem.
Prior to that, he was the administrator of the Newman Catholic Center at California Polytechnic University, San Luis Obispo, and the principal and academic vice president of San Joaquin Memorial High School, Fresno.
Brother Donald presented at a number of seminars throughout the world on issues ranging from the conflicts in the Middle East, theology and conflicts in the Holy Land, Catholics in Iraq, terrorism and more. He often led Saint Mary’s students to the Middle East during the College’s January Term. He also published many papers on Palestine, the Vatican and Israel, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and more.
Acts of Service
Service was also important to Brother Donald. He was a member of the Saint Mary’s College Board of Trustees, chair of the Cummins Institute until last year, a member of the College Committee on Inclusive Excellence and the Core Curriculum Task Force, a Brother Counselor in Ageno Hall and special assistant to the provost for Catholic thought and identity.
Outside of Saint Mary’s, Brother Donald was a consultant for the Palestinian Negotiating Team on the Status of Jerusalem, on the board of directors and director of research on international ethics at St. Thomas Aquinas Institute in Oakland, on the Commission of Christian Pilgrimages, Jerusalem and a member of the International Advisory Team, Global World Development Foundation, Los Angeles.
Brother Charles wrote, in the spring issue of “Veritas,” the publication of the Cummins Institute, “If there is a single word that captures the teaching of Brother Donald that word is hospitality. Hospitality for him is more than an attribute of Christian life. It is a central theological truth of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. It is easy to understand the welcome that the Institute has received on our campus and the wider community, given the irenic nature of that teaching.”
That hospitality was evident at Saint Mary’s and other places where he served and worked. Dean of Students Kier said that Brother Donald was always open to staff and students, and treated them as equals.
Brother Charles said he will remember Brother Donald for “his dedication to students, especially in his commitment to the Integral Program, the residence hall, and January travel with students to Middle East.”
“He will be missed for gregarious personality, his readiness to break out in to song, and his love of art, music, and cooking,” Brother Charles added.
Services This Week
A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated by Bishop John S. Cummins in the Saint Mary’s College Chapel at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 14. It will be preceded by a viewing at Fenlon Hall (between Brousseau Hall and the Chapel) from 3 to 7 p.m.
There will also be a candlelight vigil on the Chapel Plaza at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 11, and a memorial Mass in the Chapel on Wednesday, Oct. 12, at 12:40 p.m.
Brother Donald will be buried at the cemetery at Mont La Salle at 11 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 15.
In lieu of flowers, donations to the SMC Christian Brothers Scholarship Fund would be greatly appreciated. They may be sent to Saint Mary’s College, 1928 St. Mary’s Road, Moraga, CA.
People who had already been Facebook friends of Brother Donald may view the many messages on Brother Donald's Facebook page.
Read Professor Robert Bulman's moving remembrance of Brother Donald.