"It Was His Faith That Moved Me More Than Anything"
Professor Robert Bulman of Saint Mary's Sociology Department shares his recollection of Brother Donald Mansir.
Brother Donald and I didn’t know each other very well. I met him only 5 years ago and we had a collegial working relationship. We liked each other and worked well together, but we didn’t spend that much time together away from work. Nevertheless, I developed a fondness for him and felt close to him. I’ve since learned that nearly everyone he worked with felt close to him. He seemed to have that effect on people. It was a true gift.
I got to know him primarily through our work together on the Core Curriculum Task Force (CCTF). The delightful company of my fellow committee members made a sometimes burdensome chore a pleasure overall. This was due in no small part to Brother Donald’s presence on the committee. His wry sense of humor, his blunt expression of opinion, his un-defensive ability to listen to and understand opposing views, and his gentle and kind mentorship contributed immensely to the successful working relationships on that committee.
Brother Donald had a stable moral compass and also a compassionate ability to see where others were coming from. He knew how to compromise and he taught me how to do the same (he also taught me how to eat oysters and drink single-malt Scotch, but that’s another story). I often thought that Brother Donald was the hinge that kept Saint Mary’s together in spite of a simmering culture war. It’s no wonder that he was always asked to serve on so many important committees and boards. He would grumble and complain endlessly about meetings, but he was always there, always leading, always listening, and always finding a way to make things work.
That’s not to say he didn’t piss people off. My favorite Brother Donald story was when he gave everyone on the faculty a heart attack by claiming in a public forum about the core curriculum that any faculty member on campus was qualified to teach in any discipline on campus. That ruffled a few feathers. But I saw it simply as Brother Donald being Brother Donald. For all of his pessimistic grumbling, he was an optimist at heart. He really believed that we all could teach in any discipline – with our dedication to teaching, our love of the liberal arts, our commitment to shared inquiry, and a solid focus on key texts, we could learn right alongside the students. At the same time, he knew this was a fanciful idea that would never gain traction. He was a realistic optimist who had to speak his mind, even as he knew the winds were blowing in another direction.
As our work on the CCTF came to a close, I knew that Brother Donald had lost many of the battles he had fought on the committee. And yet, he was proud of the work we had accomplished together. I’ll never forget the delight on his face and the embrace he gave me after a particularly pivotal public meeting about the core curriculum that had actually gone well. The warmth he expressed to me -- a recent acquaintance, a colleague on a committee who often disagreed with his ideas, and a secular intellectual -- spoke volumes about Brother Donald’s humanity and ability to connect with people.
While I am not a religious person, I must say that Brother Donald’s way of being in the world had a spiritual effect on me. He treated others with dignity, he listened to and heard those with whom he disagreed, he reached out to bridge divides and he invoked faith – publicly, without self-consciousness, daily, and from the heart. It all touched me. It was his faith that moved me more than anything. His example was always love. “You can love someone,” he would say, “but you can’t prove it. You have to accept it.” With that simple statement, Brother Donald taught this skeptic about faith. Faith in love. I love you Brother Donald and I miss you. We all do.