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A Harley Highway to Heaven

A Harley Highway to Heaven

“Love each other and share the spirit of Jesus Christ.” That was the message Father John Manno wanted me to share with everyone this past Easter. He was clear his message wasn’t just for Easter Sunday, but every day. Father John believed love is what is needed most in the divided world of today.

This message is what I believe Father Manno would want me to share with you at this time. He actually sent me a card the day before his passing: love, friendship, working for the good, and our Lord’s love for all, rang out from the words he penned. I will share more about this and a conversation we had just last week in the future. There is no doubt in my mind Father John knew his final day was approaching. He had no desire to ever live at the old priests’ home and missed his mobility. It was his time to be called home to the Lord.

This week’s column is a celebration of Father John Manno. I can promise you he will live on because of the man he was and the love and positive energy he had for his fellow man.

Father John is probably the most beloved individual to have ever walked the streets of Williamsport. And I mean that in the literal sense. I still can envision him and his four-legged son Theo walking the streets around Annunciation Church. Father John absolutely loved that dog, and Theo loved him right back. His presence in the neighborhood at the time was most needed. The two of them spread love and hope during what was a troubled time.

This can be said for wherever Father Manno’s journey took him. He loved his days in New York City and ministering on commercial ships in New York Harbor. Talking about doing God’s work and spreading the word of Jesus Christ. He did this often with an extreme language barrier on some ships that quite frankly weren’t buying into the whole Christianity thing due to their countries’ beliefs. Father would find a member of the crew that could act as an interpreter and talk his way onto these ships. Not only would he spread the word of Jesus Christ through his helping of others, he actually became friends with many captains of these ocean-going vessels.

Which leads me to my next thought. Father John’s love of God, love of Jesus Christ, and love of his fellow man exceeded far beyond his duties as a Catholic priest. The man was loved by one and all no matter of religious beliefs, race, nationality — you name it. He epitomized the uniting of people from all walks of life through love, kindness, and caring. He was a champion of the underdog, the underprivileged and the forgotten.

Father John was a proud graduate of West Chester University. Where he was class president. It was during his senior year that he chose to enter the Seminary. From that point on, he dedicated his life to becoming the best religious leader he could be. His commitment to the Catholic Church and whatever community he was serving in was unwavering. Father John loved being a priest, loved sharing the word of the Lord, and did it in his own unique way. He provided a special energy, combined with a touch of fun and a little laughter.

Father John loved working with children and young folks. It didn’t matter if it was a first communion class or high school youth group. He approached the task at hand like he was the head coach, and his team was going to be the best prepared for whatever was at hand. He always made the Christmas season very special for the young ones at his Parrish.

There has never been a man of the cloth that has been more boots on the ground than Father Manno. I have no idea how he found the energy and time to support as many parishioners, groups, and organizations as he did.

The events of 9/11 struck a chord with Father, who was a true patriot of our great Nation. He went to Ground Zero during the tough days and helped whomever he could. His blessing, love, and support of our local 9/11 ride exemplifies God, country, and family. His love of riding his Harley’ Fred’, and of fellow bikers is legendary.

Father John loved his family. He often talked about his father Don and of these special days traveling as a boy while his dad played professional baseball. He was very proud of his father. One of the last baseball stories he shared with me was that his dad hit a grand slam home run his first major league at-bat while being managed by Casey Stengel. I loved hearing his stories and the history of his life.

Another interesting story occurred while he was working doing his days at Seminary. One of his summer jobs was as a lifeguard at a Pocono resort. Fortunately, he was assigned to a basketball camp the Catholic Church ran. He laughed as he told me he lifeguarded over Bob Knight, Gene Keady, and several other big-name coaches. He was glad there was never an incident where he had to blow his whistle or save the legendary Indiana Coach.

Father Manno loved the Williamsport area, especially downtown. He has always been a proud ambassador of the city. During a recent ride around town, his pride, love, and approval of the current state of Billtown were most obvious. He was amazed by what Penn College has become, which he remembered as Williamsport Tech back in the day. And the same could be said for Historic Bowman Field, including the fact that it now hosts a major league game.

His love and support of the Williamsport Bureau of Fire and Police Department was both vocal and boots on the ground like everything else he did. This again is a literal reference as he was involved in the Fire Department’s annual Fill the Boot campaign for MDA. There is just so much ground to cover when you’re talking about Father Manno’s life. He was everywhere, all the time, doing whatever he felt was needed. He always had a special word or blessing for whoever needed it. This even including our canine friends.

Father John is a permanent part of the Webb Weekly, and his memory and message will live on. My heartfelt condolences to Father John’s family. Through my editor Steph and her mother Nickie, we have a special connection to Father’s family. Steph’s story is very heartfelt and provides a great family perspective on Father John.

A heartfelt thank you to all that took care of Father John and shared their lives with him the past several years. He was a big hit on Facebook. If you have any stories you would like to share, please reach out.

God Bless America.

Jim Webb

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