by Joseph N. Manago
It was a cold morning at 6 a.m. one day in the early 1960s when I first met the late Msgr. William J. Rodgers as an altar boy for Mass in St. Patrick’s Church, Kent Ave., Fort Greene. “Introibo ad altare Dei. Ad Deum qui laetificat juventutem meam.” He was praying the Tridentine Mass in beautiful ecclesiastical Latin, and I was a Latin newbie fascinated by the language and the ritual of the Mass.
On Fridays, I assisted Father Rodgers at the Spanish novenas. He not only knew English and Latin, but also Spanish and German. His humility surfaced years later when he reminisced with me of how he “murdered” the Espanol at first in the prayers. He loved German also, and jokingly said he had regretted taking the language course, instead of the exam, for his doctorate in philosophy at St. John’s University, since his professor would always look at him and say, “Father Rodgers, would you kindly translate this passage into the German for the class?”
Father Rodgers said his passion, “besides theology, of course, was philosophy.” His doctoral thesis concerned the philosophy of Charles Saunders Peirce (1839-1914) who described himself as a logician, but with an epistemological foundation upon our everyday and scientific experience of inquiry in rejection of a priori Cartesianism. This influence prevailed in Father Rodgers insistence, upon presentation of my book, “Mathematical Logic and the Philosophy of God and Man” (1st Books, 2000), that I should have first thoroughly discussed the premises of my arguments by “going back to Aristotle,” and only then followed by the symbolic logical proofs of the derivative theorems. Father Rodgers said, “If I were your mentor, I would be fighting with you day and night, Professor Manago!”
Shortly before his retirement in the early 1980s, I would visit Father Rodgers in the rectory at St. Lucy-St. Patrick. We would share memories of the older days. At Christmas, he had all his cards dangling on strings in his office. He wasn’t perfect as he once had the same bad habit as myself. We would both smoke Bering cigars as we reminisced.
And we both loved Italian cuisine. He loved to have dinner at Cino’s on DeKalb Ave. So when I called him after teaching at L.I.U. or Pratt Institute, he would emphatically exclaim, “Professor Manago, get a table at Cino’s before I come!” He loved Cino’s.
As a boy, I had mistakenly thought he was of Spanish Dominican roots (Spanish novenas), not Charleston, South Carolina! Black? I was color blind, as I saw only a Roman Catholic priest, a philosopher and a friend.
I heavily cried only three times in my life – upon the death of my father, my mother and now, upon the departure of my beloved Father Rodgers! Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine: et lux perpetua luceat eis.
Manago is an author, molecular biologist, mathematician, philosopher, composer and pianist who resides in the parish of St. Nicholas of Tolentine, Jamaica.