50 years of successful ministering
By Mallory Matt
God brings certain people into ministries who will see that it will succeed. When the Diocese of Beaumont was established in 1966, it was through the help of Msgr. William “Bill” Manger that the Family Life Ministry came to be.
In October 1966, he was appointed diocesan director of the Family Life Ministry, or at the time known as the Christian Life Center. He directed the ministry from afar while he chaired the Bible department and ministered at the Catholic Student Center at Stephen F. Austin University in Nacogdoches from 1967 to 1974. While there, he was instrumental in forming the Birthright offices in Lufkin and Nacogdoches.
He returned to Beaumont in June 1974, just after the Roe vs. Wade court case that legalized a woman’s decision to have an abortion.
“The pro-life movement put a lot of energy and concern in trying to change legislation,” he said. “There was an awful lot of energy put into that which just did not go anywhere. They were trying to get a human life amendment and they tried with petitions.”
When the legislation would not budge, Msgr. Manger went on to helping establish two more Birthright centers in the area in collaboration with the two offices in Lufkin and Nacogdoches. In the centers, he taught the Natural Family Planning program, which teaches men and women about the female ovulation schedule and fertility. The program is still taught today in the Family Life Ministry.
“At the same time, we were trying to put a Respect Life program in the parishes,” he said. “And I remember we had one Sunday in October that we tried to designate as Respect Life Sunday.”
A manual was put out each year with topics such as respecting the elderly, those who were incarcerated, and those who were handicapped. One topic even discussed gun safety.
“There was a good effort to try to educate people in the parishes about the various aspects of Respect Life,” Msgr. Manger said. “Some priests would get together and form discussion clubs over the topic.”
The other side of the Christian Life Center was marriage enrichment and preparation, which is also a main focus of the current Family Life Ministry.
In the 1970s, the Christian Life Center hosted in-depth weekend experiences with couples and the priest called “Engaged Encounter.” Some could relate this to the Family Life Ministry’s current retreat, To Marry For Life.
“That was a very strong program for engaged couples,” Msgr. Manger said. “It took a lot of effort.”
The retreats were held at St. Mary High School in Orange. The attendees would sleep on little foam mattresses on the classroom floors and would take showers in the gym, where now, the To Marry For Life retreats are held at the Holy Family Retreat Center.
The weekend was dedicated to educating engaged couples about marriage. During those weekends, Msgr. Manger liked to play a series of lecture records by Urban Q. Steinmetz that were designed for family enrichment.
“They guy on the records is really good,” he said. “He talked about the steps of love and marriage.”
When being transferred to other parishes, Msgr. Manger took the lecture series records with him wherever he went to play for groups of engaged and married couples.
“When I was sent down to Immaculate Conception in Groves, I got another group together and played it for them. Then I went to St. Anthony and did the same thing with them,” he said. “I used the records over and over again, I almost had them memorized.”
After many years of moving from different ministries and parishes, Msgr. Manger had lost the set.
“Last year or the year before, I thought I’d look to see if I could find them on eBay,” he said. “And sure enough, someone was selling them. And I found a player that allowed me to put them on mp3.”
He may be using more updated materials now as pastor of St. Anne Church in Beaumont, but he took no time recruiting married couples for the Marriage Encounter program when he was first assigned there in 1990. This program gives couples the opportunity to receive advice and support from couples who had received training in the Church.
The current Family Life Ministry continues the practice of marriage enrichment through its I Do, Again retreats where married couples can attend helpful workshops and walkthroughs of the couples’ wedding ceremonies and receptions all over again.
Msgr. Manger began executing the importance of ministering to families in 1966. Today, Pope Francis’ recent Apostolic Exhortation, ‘The Joy of Love,’ affirms Msgr. Manger’s practice that stable families are the building blocks of a healthy society, and a place where children are free to be born.