Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
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Humorist Pat McManus: ‘Being Catholic is so much a part of my thinking and being’
Story and photo by Mitch Finley, Inland Register staff
(From the April 6, 2006 edition of the Inland Register)
Pat McManus’s new book, a humorous mystery, is titled The Blight Way. (IR photo)
Spokane’s Patrick F. McManus is widely recognized as the author of numerous outdoor humor books, including the New York Times bestsellers The Grasshopper Trap and Real Ponies Don’t Go Oink. McManus’s stories have had people laughing out loud for some 40 years.
Less well known, however, is the fact that Pat McManus, now 72, has been gratefully and actively Catholic for his entire life. He tends to be reserved when it comes to talking about his Catholicism. “I try to keep a low profile where the church is concerned, and I succeed in doing that,” he says with a smile. All the same, it’s not difficult to get Pat McManus to talk about being Catholic. There is little that he talks about that does not shift his sense of humor into gear, however, so even when talking about his religion he can’t resist cracking wise…
“My family were very devout Catholics,” McManus recalls. “The whole family, McManuses going back forever and ever. My great-grandparents on my father’s side came over from Ireland, I guess during the great potato famine. They lived in Canada first, then they immigrated from Canada to the United States, which was fairly common in those days. Then they lived in Bemidji, Minn.”
McManus never attended Catholic schools. “But,” he says with a twinkle in his eye, “I went to catechism endlessly! My father died in 1944 – I was six or seven years old – and a few years later my mother remarried, a guy named Dick DeMers, and this guy, one of my heroes, actually, he was a very devout Catholic. Oh, my gosh! And so from then on we were in church virtually all the time. (More laughter.) I was in catechism. Couldn’t play in American Legion baseball because we’d have summer catechism. And then we’d have catechism through the winter. Oh, my goodness.”
Some people might have been turned off on the church by all that forced attendance at catechism classes, but not Pat McManus. “Oddly enough,” he says. “Maybe it was by background, growing up surrounded by saints, our house was crammed with saints, saints for everything. St. Anthony – my mother would lose something and no problem, she’d say a prayer to St. Anthony, and there it would be. There was the sense of another world, a spiritual world that was all around you all the time – and it gave you no peace,” he laughed. “There was a lot going on at home when it came to religion!”
Pat’s step-father was very active in the family’s parish. “He was the head guy locally with the Knights of Columbus in Sandpoint. He was very well known in the community. He was actually a really great guy.” His mother and future stepfather were brought together by an Irish missionary priest, “not one of my favorite people,” says McManus.
On the other hand, today he refers to another priest, who pastored Pat’s childhood parish in Sandpoint, “one of the greatest human beings I’ve ever met. Another priest was my fishing partner for years. Fishing with a priest, and a big one gets away, you really gotta be careful” to watch language: “‘Oh, dear, I lost the biggest fish of my life. Oh, darn.’” McManus laughs loud and long at his own words. “But being Catholic is so much a part of my thinking and being. I like being part of something bigger than myself.”
Waxing serious for a moment, Pat explains that an ongoing interest of his for years has been to understand how science and religion compliment each other. “A kind of pursuit of mine, over the years,” he explains, “has been to make science and religion mesh, so that they are not rejecting each other. Science is such an amazing thing. The chances of any of us being here at all are so infinitely small. A molecule someplace is off a quarter of an inch, or a hydrogen molecule is just right. If it was any different, we’d either burn up or freeze to death. There’s all of this sort of thing.
“Most of the articles I wrote the first 10 years I was out of college were all science related. Years ago I read books by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin,” the 20th century Jesuit philosopher and paleontologist, author of The Phenomenon of Man and other works. “I thought he had just about nailed it as far as bringing together science and religion.”
Being Catholic, McManus says, “has always been a big part of my life, a big part of my thinking. And of course, the church itself, I must say that I do not always agree with Rome. But the church has always been there as this kind of rock.”
Pat and his wife, Darlene McManus, are members of Spokane’s St. Aloysius Parish. “I’m not quite sure why we go Saturday night,” he comments. “Usually, we go out to dinner after Mass on Saturday night, but now my wife has said, ‘You know, I miss my breakfast out after Sunday Mass.’ I said, ‘Well, I’m not going to Mass twice!’”
Asked if he sees any connections between being Catholic and writing humor, McManus laughs. “It’s very hard,” he says with a pause of just the right length, “to be Catholic and be funny. But I have always viewed (the ability to write humor) as a kind of gift. I don‘t think a person can just sit down and think, ‘Well, I think I’ll be funny now.’ Of course, the problem with writing humor is that people expect it to be funny, and that’s a big pressure. There is nothing worse than a piece of humor that isn’t funny. It can be very scary to write humor.”
In fact, McManus says, writing humor requires faith. “In the kind of writing I do you have to have a great deal of faith that something is going to happen here, that this is somehow going to come together, and ideas will occur to you that you’ve never thought of before.”
Although his previous books have been collections of short humor pieces, featuring recurring characters, his new book, titled The Blight Way, is his first full-fledged novel, the first in a series of humorous mysteries McManus plans to write featuring Sheriff Bo Tully.
“When I came to writing a mystery,” he explains, “essentially what I wanted to do was combine humor and mystery. People have called saying they’ve read it two or three times. It’s an entertainment.
“Why did I write it? My ambition was to get one published, then I could refer to myself as a novelist! It was fun to write. The humor arises out of the personalities of the characters, especially Sheriff Bo Tully and his old father, Pap. Tully, for Pap’s 75th birthday, he gives Pap a murder to help Tully solve, just outside this little town of Famine. It’s in the relationship between (Tully and Pap) that most of the humor arises.
“This whole town of Famine, Idaho, is so poor and such a miserable little town that if anybody there gets arrested it gives him a step up socially and economically.”
Once when a book promotion tour took him to Salt Lake City, Utah, reporters from a local television station took McManus to a nearby lake to try his luck for catfish. “They were filming the whole thing,” he recalls, “and I catch this huge catfish. I never caught a catfish before, but I catch this huge catfish and bring it in. This television guy says, ‘Gosh, this is perfect. You’re not at all like you write in your books.’ And just then I stepped back and knocked over somebody’s tackle box, spilled it all over. He says, ‘I take that back.’ McManus smiles broadly at his own story then, after two beats, breaks up with laughter.