Renowned writer and speaker, Richard Francis Xavier “Brennan” Manning, died early Friday morning at the age of 79.
Manning’s writings inspired Christian musicians and evangelical authors. He is best known for his book The Ragamuffin Gospel.
Manning was born and raised in Brooklyn, N.Y. After high school, he enlisted in the Marine Corps and served two years in the Korean War. Back in the United States, he pursued journalism studies at the University of Missouri, but left after a semester to “seek out something more.”
He pursued philosophy and Latin at Saint Francis College in Loretto, Pa., where he became a Christian. He continued on to seminary and ordination as a Franciscan priest.
After a few years as instructor and spiritual director at St. Francis Seminary, he spent two years as a member of the Little Brothers of Jesus of Charles de Foucauld, a contemplative order that served the poor in Spain and Switzerland. During this time, he also lived in solitary reflection in a remote cave in the Zaragoza desert for six months.
When he returned to the United States in the 1970s, he joined three other priests and helped establish a ministry and chapel for the poor shrimp farmers in Bayou La Batre, Ala. He went on to serve in campus ministry at Broward Community College in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Then in 1982, he left the Franciscan Order to marry, a dissension that left him an “inactive priest” on rocky footing with the Catholic Church.
He began to speak and write, but behind the scenes struggled with alcoholism, even as he pursued treatment. Besides two relapses—one in 1980 and a second in 1993—he remained sober, but not before his addiction cost him his marriage. He and his wife divorced after 18 years together. He chronicled his battle and heartache in his memoir, All Is Grace.
“As you read this memoir you may be tempted, as I am, to think ‘Oh, what might have been … if Brennan hadn’t given into drink,’” commented his friend Philip Yancey. “I urge you to reframe the thought to, ‘Oh, what might have been … if Brennan hadn’t discovered grace.’”
That discovery of grace would form the heart of Manning’s writing.
“My life is a witness to vulgar grace—a grace that amazes as it offends,” he wrote in All Is Grace. “It’s not cheap. It’s free, and as such will always be a banana peel for the orthodox foot and a fairy tale for the grown-up sensibility.”
In addition to The Ragamuffin Gospel, he published 14 other books during his lifetime. Other well-known titles include Abba’s Child, The Parable of Willie Juan, and Ruthless Trust.
Manning is survived by two stepdaughters and more than two dozen nieces, nephews, grandnieces, and grandnephews.
Manning’s sister Gerry and her husband, Art, announced his death: “While he will be greatly missed we should all take comfort in the fact that he is resting in the loving arms of his Abba.”