A man of all people in a world divided

He was as popular as Rocky Balboa was in Philadelphia. He was a man of the people, all people. In a world and a country divided by race, religion and political differences, Father John Manno didn’t care about our dissimilarities; he cared about us. He didn’t judge one by the way they looked or what they believed, Father Manno was everybody’s friend.

The Williamsport native and longtime pastor of Annunciation and Our Lady of Lourdes churches passed away this past week, leaving behind thousands of family and friends he touched in his nearly 80 years of life, most of which he spent serving the Williamsport community.

Having attended St. Joseph’s Elementary and being a lifetime parishioner of Annunciation, I had the privilege of getting to know Father Manno very well. He was a different priest in that he rode a rumbling Harley Davidson named Fred, went skiing in the Alps and was a supporter of all local athletics, namely his alma mater, Williamsport. But, he was much more than that.

I remember watching from the 125-year-old St. Joe’s building as Father Manno would take his walks around the neighborhood, speaking with longtime friends while continuously making new ones. Exclaims for Father Manno could be heard from inside the school. He would do anything to help anyone and he always did. He didn’t just preach the act of Godliness, he lived it.

With the fire station being in near sight from the school and the rectory, Father Manno made sure to take care of his firemen. He showered them with gifts and support and he even became the chaplain.

I remember one Christmas Eve a few years ago, while Father Manno was in the Emergency Room; I received a call from my mother asking me to pick up the tiramisu that Father Manno had ordered for the firefighters, something he did every Christmas. He couldn’t rest until the firemen had their Italian dessert.

His love for servicemen and women allowed him to help start the 9/11 Memorial Ride. He was the face and the voice of the noble bike ride and up until a few years ago, he was still leading the pack on Fred.

On a more personal level, when my father was ill and passed away, Father Manno stepped in and called my brothers and I his nephews. We were often in his company, whether it be going to Williamsport football games, Neumann basketball games, trips to Dorney Park or to New York City. The friendship was such that he would stop by our house or we would stop by his. He told us proud stories of his father, Don Manno; we would visit with his beloved dogs, Toby or Theo, and he even shared his aced college journalism project with me.

He was truly an inspirational man and I can’t think of a better role model. He impacted my life in ways that many will never know. He is easily one of the greatest men I’ve ever had the privilege of knowing.

When I attended Father Manno’s senior theology class, he ended every course with, “Every day in every way, I’m better and better, higher and higher.”

He just didn’t preach this, he lived it. He embodied what it meant to be an elite person. He was able to enrich his life by making everybody’s lives better.

It’s no coincidence and how appropriate that, much like Jesus, Father Manno ascended into Heaven on Ascension Thursday. And it makes me think of something he used to always say:

“He is now in a special space in a special place.”

Devin Bierly is a member of the sports staff of the Williamsport Sun-Gazette.