Patrick McManus worked to improve prisons

  • Article by: BEN COHEN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 2, 2007 - 3:53 PM

A former Roman Catholic priest, the Duluth native pushed to effect change in prisons across the nation.

Patrick McManus, of Mounds View, who once served as a deputy commissioner for Minnesota's Department of Corrections and who later worked to improve prisons and jails around the nation, died of an infection Sunday in Coon Rapids.

McManus, a former Roman Catholic priest, was 69.

After McManus left the priesthood in 1967 to marry, he became a Hennepin County probation officer, rising in prominence in Minnesota and elsewhere to effect change in prisons and jails around the nation.

Whether as a prison official in Minnesota, as leader of Kansas' prison system from 1979 to 1983, or as a special court master appointed by the federal government, McManus "stood firm on principle" but was sensitive to inmates and officials, said Frank Wood, retired commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Corrections.

"He insisted that we do the right thing regardless of the political implications," said Wood. While serving as the principal of boys at Duluth Cathedral High School in the mid-1960s, he met his wife-to-be, who was attending one of his religion classes, and the Vatican released him from the priesthood to marry.

"It's a love story," said their son John, of Lino Lakes.

After leaving Kansas, McManus returned to Minnesota to launch his consulting business, said his longtime friend Thomas Christian, a former priest who was ordained in 1963 with McManus.

"He knew you couldn't be one-sided, that you couldn't pick sides between inmates and the administration" when investigating a prison or jail, said Christian, who became a criminal-justice social scientist. McManus' advice and counsel was sought by officials in all 50 states, said Christian, who said McManus was as humble as he was bright.

Christian said that when McManus was a priest, he was being groomed by the church to become a bishop, as evidenced by his advanced studies in Rome.

McManus' son Mike, a former corrections officer, said that part of his father's success was due to his ability to listen. "He would listen to an inmate and take his complaint seriously. In most corrections facilities, it's just kept under wraps," Mike said.

McManus, a Duluth native, completed studies as a seminarian in 1959 and got a master's degree in education administration in 1967 at the University of St. Thomas. In 1963, he earned a graduate degree in theology at Gregorian University in Rome. He also studied prison management at the University of Pennsylvania.

In addition to his sons, he is survived by his wife of 39 years, Nanci; a daughter, Kate of Otsego, Minn.; a sister, Marilyn Thebarge, and a brother, Dick, both of Duluth, and three granddaughters.

Services will be held at 11 a.m. today at St. Joan of Arc Church, 4537 3rd Av. S., Minneapolis, with visitation at 10 a.m. at the church.

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