“I was not what you would call an activist during Vietnam. I was what you would call a Republican fundamentalist.”
During the Vietnam War, Pat Mannix started a chapter of Operation Morale in Brighton to support the soldiers. Every six to eight weeks, the members would get together to package cookies, candy, personal hygiene items and other items, which were then sent to the soldiers.
“I was all very pro-war, pro-country, pro-everything,” Mannix said.
So how did a Republican fundamentalist become an activist taking stands on everything from cruise missiles to racism?
The seeds to that turnaround, she said, were likely planted when she saw what was happening in Vietnam.
“Television coverage was much better then than it is now,” she said. “You don't get this canned social thing, you didn't have that. You had coverage. So you saw bodies coming home from Vietnam. You saw war. You saw actual pictures from the war. The picture of the napalm, the little girl running down, I saw that on TV. Live. … And so I was becoming more aware. So actually it seems like a huge jump, but it was really a process.”
And when Mannix took on a part-time job in the late 1970s, it cemented her course.
“I’m looking at the want ads and here's this part-time job at a place called Becket Hall, which is part of the seminary system in the Rochester Catholic Diocese, and at that time it was out at Murphy Hall at St. Fisher,” she said. “They were looking for a part-time bookkeeper. … I went and applied and got the job.
“So the young men who lived there, they were Fisher students who were thinking of going into the priesthood, so they lived there in a community and they all had assignments where they had to do things.”
One of these students was responsible for taking collected food to St. Joseph’s House of Hospitality on South Avenue. On one of those trips, Mannix offered the use of her station wagon to deliver the food.
“Well, I had lived all my life in Brighton. What did I know about a place like St. Joe's? I'll tell you — nothing. But that was it. That was the beginning of the curve. And down there at St. Joe's, I met a theologian, a professor that taught at St. Bernard's and ran the field education office down there.
That theologian, she said, answered questions that Mannix had long had about poverty and wars. He didn’t brush off her queries by saying, “That’s the way it is,” she said.
“He told me why that was the way it was. And so it was huge, it was just huge, and it led me to this path that I'm still on.”
She said she finally began to understand what moves people to protest. And before long, she was among those crowds.
She took part in protests against U.S. policies in Central America, nuclear weapons stored in Seneca County, cruise missiles being employed in Europe and other issues. Currently, she’s an anti-racism educator, giving talks and workshops and working with Metro Justice.
When asked if she would tell her former self to do anything different, Mannix quickly answered.
“Yes. As the bumper sticker says: Question authority.”