As we begin a new year, a friar who is marking 50 years as a priest in 2012 shares thoughts about his ministry and his hopes for the future, feeling gratitude for all that he has experienced.
Life is all about change and the transitions we experience as we adjust to them from year to year.
We can all remember the excitement and apprehension as we approached the new millennium in 2000. This new year, we once again see great changes with the end of the Iraq conflict, the ongoing struggle in Afghanistan, the continued uneasiness with the financial structures both here in the United States and in the world, and the changes in religions. Personally, I will be completing 50 years as a priest and 55 years as a professed Franciscan. To say that things have changed in surprising and challenging ways over these years would indeed be an understatement.
As I reflect back on my life and ministry I think first of all of the amazing people both religious and lay who have so enriched me and enabled me to succeed in so many personal and ministerial endeavors. I entered the Franciscans shortly after my graduation from Siena College after deciding to forego, at least for the moment, my plan to become a lawyer. I thought that I would be putting studies behind me and preparing for service as a missionary somewhere in the world. It was seven years later that I finally completed my studies for the religious and priestly life and was sent to our shrine church in Boston for some pastoral experience. I was then assigned to teach at our college-level seminary in Rye Beach, N.H. This led to four years of study and a Ph.D. from the University of Notre Dame. None of this was in my “plan-book” but it was apparently in God’s.
I went on from there to spend seven years as a professor and formator at Siena College, and then 15 years as president of St. Bonaventure University. To say that all of this came as a surprise to me is truly an understatement. Of course, all this occurred while the world was undergoing amazing changes in business, government, the Church, and in communication and technology often summarized in the concept of “globalization.”
For me, the changes in the Catholic Church from Vatican II to the recent revising of the liturgy demanded a constant shifting of my ideas and ideals about our world, and my religious life and ministry. Likewise, the sadness and shame experienced with the scandals in the world and in the Church reminded us all of the constant need for reform in our life and work here and now.
In all this time, however, I have always been strengthened by the Lord’s presence and grace and my Franciscan values. As I prepare to celebrate the 50th anniversary of my ordination this spring, I can honestly say that I have never regretted the challenges that I had to face with God’s help and the support of my Franciscan brothers and sisters, nor do I feel overly anxious about what is in store for the future.
I feel that the opportunity to teach and minister with younger people has been a great blessing for me.
I never imagined that I would be given the opportunities I have had to travel the United States and beyond in service to God’s people. My greatest thrill was to work with the Franciscan Province of India in the restructuring of their province.
Thanks to my family, close friends, and my Franciscan fraternities, I look back with satisfaction on my life and ministry to date. But, as St. Francis reminded us, there is still so much to do. I look forward to what ever new challenges and opportunities the year 2012 will bring.
— Fr. Mathias, who professed his final vows as a Franciscan friar in 1967, is part of the team of Siena’s Franciscan Center for Service and Advocacy.