Father Thomas J. Mantica, MM
Born: July 20, 1930
Ordained: Jnue 14, 1958
Died: April 28, 1978
Father Thomas J. Mantica was one of four (out of seven on the plane) killed in the crash of an air taxi at Malakal, the Sudan, on Friday morning, April 28. Jet service to Juba, Fr. Mantica’s work site, had been suspended in recent weeks because of heavy rains and bad conditions of the runway at Juba Airport. The engines of the small plane failed about midway between Juba in the south to the capital Khartoum.
Fr. Mantica was born at Albany, New York, on July 20, 1930. He graduated from the Christian Brothers’ Academy in Albany in 1948, and studied at St. Charles Preparatory Seminary in Catonsville, Maryland, in 1948-49. Joining Maryknoll in November 1949, he studied at Lakewood, Glen Ellyn, Bedford, and at Maryknoll, New York, and was ordained June 14, 1958.
Fr. Mantica did excellent work as a missioner in Japan from 1958 until 1976. Deeply versed in and with a great appreciation for Japanese language and culture, he did parish work and for almost a decade was Director of the Hope House pastoral and educational programs for the poor of Kyoto. He studied at the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana, in 1970-71 and received a M.Ed. degree there in 1971. From 1972-76, he served on the Japan Regional Council and as Regional Coordinator in Japan.
He was assigned to the new Sudan Unit effective April 1, 1976, and was Unit Representative to the General Council until the time of his own death. Perhaps one of the best tributes we could pay him are his own words in an article, “Call to Mission”, published in The Japan Missionary Bulletin, XXX/l, January-February 1976, pp. 52-58:
“In the Sudan the presence of the church is minimal. It is predominantly a Muslim country (70%) with a Catholic population of only 680,000 out of 17 million with one of the lowest ratios of religious personnel to person throughout the world; the people are poor, hungry and jobless with 1,500,000 refugees slowly returning to their country which has been ravaged by 17 years of civil war; the local church is aware of the potential among its Catholic population and has as its first priority the training of lay people for church related work; the episcopal conference has called for a team-community of priests, sisters and lay people to work in collaboration to build a catechetical pastoral institute; a Sudanese priest has already been trained and chosen to work with the team and to become the director of the institute after the initial work of establishment is completed; a target date of 5-6 years for the accomplishment of this objective has been determined.”
“Truthfully, I did not relish the idea of leaving Japan… Yet, I have accepted the call knowing that my age, the change in climate, the new language, the different customs and my own weaknesses are all reasons for saying, ‘No’… I dream of the day when the Japanese Episcopal Conference will put out a call to their sons and daughters; priests, brothers, sisters and lay people, to band together in a society dedicated to the spreading of the gospel in other lands. When this happens the Church in Japan will really begin to grow….”
“The gospels show us how agonizing it was for Jesus to have had to say ‘Yes’ to the will of his Father when he saw how much work there was left for him to do…The Father is demanding the same sacrifice of us today and it is agonizing…I leave with the sadness of separation but with the joy of helping to carry the Japanese Church to another less fortunate land. I ask your prayers for the success of the work and for the Sudanese people.”
Mass was celebrated for Fr. Mantica at Khartoum Catholic Cathedral on Sunday morning, April 30. Mass will also be celebrated for Fr. Mantica at 6 p.m., Tuesday, May 2, at his home parish church, St. Patrick’s, 271 Central Avenue, Albany, New York, 12206, with Fr. Mantica’s friend Fr. Richard A. Aylward, M. M., as the homilist.