For The Dialog
CENTREVILLE, Md. – Father Clem Manista has been a priest for nearly 42 years. He’s driven a car for more than four decades.
Yet he’s just celebrating his 17th birthday.
That’s because Father Manista is a leapling, or leaper, common names for people who were born on Feb. 29. Today, Leap Day, comes once every four years (in a Leap Year) to help balance the calendar with the Earth’s orbit around the sun. That orbit takes slightly more than the 365 days in a standard year, so an extra day is added every fourth year.
Father Manista was born on Feb. 29, 1948, so chronologically he is 68 despite having had only 17 birthdays. That meant he celebrated just six birthdays when he became a priest in 1974 (the youngest a priest can ordinarily be ordained is 26) and became eligible for a driver’s license (minimum age 16) on his fourth birthday.
Parishioners at Mother of Sorrows Church, where he is pastor, honored Father Manista with a party in the church hall Sunday, on the eve of his birthday.
Father Manista moved to Centreville from St. Paul’s in Delaware City last summer. When he went through the facilities before moving, he was delighted to find what may be considered an omen that he was fated for Mother of Sorrows.
“One of the holy water fountains has the exact day of my birthday, 2-29-48.”
He views his birthday, one in every 1,461 people are born on Leap Day, according to the Honor Society of Leap Year Day babies, as a conversation starter, although it has a few drawbacks.
For example, when he enrolled in Medicare (eligibility begins when one turns 65) someone with the Social Security Administration, changed his birthday to Feb. 28, apparently to appease computer operations. “That messed me up a little bit on my taxes” since the IRS noted a discrepancy in his birth date records. He had to contact the SSA to correct its records.
Father Manista shares birthdays with some notable people in three of his main passions: his faith and the priesthood; the movies, and baseball:
- Pope Paul III was born on Feb. 29, 1468. He is best known for having called the Council of Trent, known for its reforms and its doctrinal teachings. He also was one of two popes who excommunicated King Henry VIII of England (the first was later revoked).
- William A. Wellman was born Feb. 29, 1896, and became an actor and movie director. He directed “Wings,” a 1927 movie that won the first Academy Award for best picture, and won an Oscar for best writing, original story, for 1937’s “A Star Is Born,” for which he also was nominated for best director. He was also nominated as best director for “Battleground” in 1949 and “The High and the Mighty” in 1954.
- Ralph Miller was born Feb. 29, 1896, and became a major league baseball player. He played for the Philadelphia Phillies (Father Manista’s favorite team since he was a child) in 1920-21 and for the World Series-winning Washington Senators in 1924.
Leap Day is fine for birthdays, but not everything. Father Manista recalls that one couple asked him if he thought Feb. 29 would be a good day to marry.
“I suggested against it,” he said. “In a marriage you need a date every year to celebrate.”
As a child growing up in St. Hedwig Parish in Wilmington, Father Manista was saved from the problem of which day to celebrate his birthday – Feb. 28 or March 1 – in non-Leap Years by a family tradition of commemorating a birthday on the closest Sunday. He and his sister continue that tradition.
That doesn’t keep him from joking about how he celebrates during those off years. “I tell people I celebrate for one minute at the midnight between Feb. 28 and March 1,” he said.
At the other extreme, he sometimes tells people that he “celebrates my birthday for two weeks” since it comes so infrequently. He’s not exactly kidding, though he means it light-heartedly.
“It takes that long sometimes,” he said, since many people who note the uniqueness of his birthday invite him to meals or outings.
It takes a while to get to all of them, he said, but not as long as it will take for his next birthday to roll around.