Once we had kids, we never missed Mass, but that didn’t mean my personal relationship with God was strong. Growing up, Mom and Dad were engaged Catholics. As a child, I talked to Jesus daily. But in high school there was friends and sports and girls. Same with college. Then I became preoccupied with raising kids and building the business. We went to Mass weekly as a family, and Annie taught Catechism, but by this time I had forgotten about having a personal relationship with God.
When Matt went to college, I prayed that he would somehow find his calling. U of M is a big school and Matt was reserved, polite, shy, modest and very kind. He never drank or smoked. But Annie and I left him there that first day, with his yellow North tshirt on his thin frame, wondering if Big Blue would swallow him up.
It was later when I found out that Matt had prayed too. I discovered that early in that first term, three upperclassmen from the corner room next door to Matt’s room in Bursley Hall, had invited him to a prayer meeting. He liked these guys. He went to the prayer meeting.
Matt began to learn about UCO University Christian Outreach. It’s an organization that focuses on bringing the Gospel to students. Then I learned that UCO’s only men’s outreach home for the Engineering Campus happened to be the corner dorm room at Bursley with the three upperclassmen.
Matt had a great four years at Michigan. In his Sophomore year, Matt was one of the three guys living in the big corner room at Bursley. During his Junior and Senior years, he lived in the men’s UCO house with eight other students. He was also a member of U of M’s Christian Acappella Group. His grades were spectacular. He was a Physics Tutor. With his professor, he copublished a paper on thermal dynamics. He made many friends. Most importantly, he had embarked on a faith journey.
Matt’s experience at Michigan was intriguing me. A chance comment from an acquaintance about a new Pastor at a church called St.Clair inspired Annie and I to attend Mass there one Sunday. Soon we heard about an educational program called Alpha. Annie and I took a chance and attended Alpha. We met many parishioners. Although awkward at first, we learned to discuss our faith with others. When Alpha ended, we somehow got involved with Christ Life, another program sponsored by St. Clair. By the time we officially joined St. Clair, it was already our home, and the catalyst for my own faith journey.
During his last two summers at U of M, Matt lived on campus with Christian Brothers who had connections to UCO. Living with men committed to faith inspired Matt. Graduation day neared. He was accepted into the Applied Math doctorate program at Michigan and Stanford. Again I prayed for Matt, asking God to help him make the right decision. Matt decided to take a one year deferral and become a mission leader for the Brotherhood of Hope at Rutgers University in New Jersey. It’s a community of Catholic Brothers with a mission to advance the Gospel by reaching out to inactive Catholic students.
Annie and I were hiding some discomfort with Matt’s decision. We continued to pray for him as he dove in head first to mission life at Rutgers. He was reaching out to students, attempting to get them involved at the Catholic center. He must have been rejected often. Yet, he was inspiring me to explore my faith in a deeper way. I began to read Scripture. I went to Confession for the first time in years.
Then we went to visit Matt and the Brothers at Rutgers. It was there that we started to realize that Matt and the other young mission leaders and student leaders, along with the Brothers, plus the priests and nuns at the campus parish, were all one family working together to build the Catholic community. They were so warm and appreciative of Matt and his parents. The Brothers were also Matt’s family now, and they were quickly becoming our family as well.
While at Rutgers, I attended Spirit Night, the weekly meeting for students involved with the catholic center. I watched as students flocked around Matt and the other mission leaders. The Brothers appeared along with Father Pete and then Sister Lorraine, and the room was electric. Suddenly there was live music and students had their hands in the air as they belted out the opening worship tune. Matt had been urging me to include worship as a part of the Christ Life program at St. Clare. Suddenly I knew he was right. Back at home, I involved myself at St. Clair with new energy. I wanted to get closer to God.
As his first year as a mission leader came to a close, I had not given up on the idea of Matt resuming his education. His one year deferral in the doctorate program would soon expire, and I prayed that Matt would make the right decision. He decided to return one more year as a mission leader. He would also become an Associate Brother so that he could learn more about their lifestyle.I had mixed feelings and there was an element of disappointment. Some people were confused. “Why does a Brother take the vow of celibacy?” “What about his talents for Math and Physics?” “Why doesn’t he at least want to become a Priest?”
But Matt was happy and energized. Back home for a period that summer, I could see how much he had matured. With his guidance, we began to discuss our faith at home, something we had rarely ever done. It was becoming obvious that Matt was taking his faith very seriously. I realized that I was changing too. I was praying daily now.
Matt is now completing his second year at Rutgers. We traveled there again this Easter, attending Vigil Mass at St. Peter the Apostle. It was a glorious celebration like none I had ever seen. The church was packed and 75% of the worshipers were in their 20’s. Not a soul left early, and three and a half hours later, the entire congregation spilled out into the street for an impromptu celebration. Hugs and high fives were everywhere.
One student gave Matt a long hug and said “Thank you so much”. I recognized his face because he had stood on the altar as one of the candidates for baptism and confirmation. I discovered that Matt had met the student earlier in the school year. He had been going through a difficult time. He was bitter, depressed and considered himself an Atheist. Matt never gave up on him.
The after-Vigil party took hold at the Brothers house around Midnight. The entire Catholic community was there, including hundreds of revvedup students. A few cigars were smoked at the backyard fire pit, but not one drop of alcohol was consumed.
When we returned home, I felt peaceful about Matt’s future. It was time for Matt to make another decision. He went on a solitary retreat to aid him in the discernment process. This time I prayed that Matt would be guided by the Holy Spirit, and that God’s Will would prevail. It did. Matt was excited when he told Annie and I that he would begin a Novitiate with the Brotherhood of Hope in July.
Looking back at Matt’s faith journey, I now realize that it coincided with my faith transition. A new and personal friendship with Jesus had developed while I was watching my Son evolve toward religious life. Although I had been praying for Matt to make the right life choices, God had been working on me too. All along He had been saying, “I’m giving you an opportunity. You’re going to learn from Matt, and I’m also sending you to St. Clare”.
And St. Clare is certainly a huge component in my resurrection story. Beginning with Father Andrew and Father Tom, and supported by so many beautiful souls at this parish, I’m once again a child of God with big plans and responsibilities. God sent me to St. Clair to help me understand the significance of Matt’s journey, and to prepare me for my own discipleship. Thank you Jesus. Thank you St. Clare.