Fr. Carl Matthews, S.J., a former publisher and editor of The Catholic Register, died at 80 years old Register file photo

Friends and colleagues mourn the passing of Fr. Carl Matthews 

  • September 28, 2012

Catholic education, the Jesuit community and the Church suffered a great loss on Sept. 26 with the passing of Fr. Carl Matthews.

"It was the significant end to an era," said Ottawa Archbishop Terrence Prendergast, a Jesuit himself who'd known Fr. Matthews for 50 years. "I saw him in August and noticed how frail he was but he was quite upbeat. He always had a positive attitude."

Fr. Matthews, 80, died peacefully at Rouge Valley Hospital in Ajax, Ont. Since retiring from parish life in 2010, he had lived at the Rene Goupil Jesuit Infirmary where his health deteriorated.

"He would probably thought it quite fitting that he died on the Feast of the Canadian Martyrs; that was an important devotion for him," said Prendergast. "He went very quickly at the end. People were expecting him to hang on for another week or two but the Lord called him home on that feast day."

Fr. Matthews, ordained on June 4, 1966, played many roles within the Catholic community. He was a priest, publisher of The Catholic Register for three years and served for 14 years as a trustee and then chair of the Metropolitan Separate School Board, the precursor of the Toronto Catholic District School Board. He made his most lasting mark in education, where he was an instrumental figure in establishing full funding for Ontario Catholic schools.

"I would say that he was in love with Catholic education and was a brilliant and dogged defender of our Catholic schools and our right to full funding," said historian Michael Power, author of the 2005 biography Jesuit in the Legislative Gallery: A life of Father Carl Matthews, S.J. "He learned a lot from his father who was a school inspector, but he was essentially self taught in the matter of school finances. He engineered the clinching deal on full funding."   

Fr. Matthews' involvement in the funding debate began when Cardinal Gerald Emmett Carter returned from Rome in 1979 following his elevation to cardinal by Pope John Paul II. Carter, archbishop of Toronto, pulled Fr. Matthews aside and told him that the one thing he hoped to accomplish as a cardinal was to secure full publicly funded Catholic education in Ontario.

Carter asked Fr. Matthews to draft a brief but compelling argument to present to the government on the matter.

"So he left the room and within three weeks had a 12-page memorandum written," said Power. "He never heard another thing about it until in 1984 he got a call from the Cardinal's office saying listen, the premier has phoned the Cardinal asking for another copy of that memorandum. Shortly thereafter the big announcement was made."

Prior to the 1984 announcement, the province only provided subsidies up to grade 10 for Catholic schools, leaving students in grades 11, 12 and 13 to pay tuition costs.   

Born in Kingston, Ont. Fr. Mattews attended his hometown's Regiopolis College before entering St. Stanislaus Novitiate in Guelph, Ont. in 1951. After first vows and two years of Juniorate, he went on to Regis College in Toronto. Fr. Matthews returned to his former high school and taught for two years before returning to the University of Toronto to formally study education — a life-long vocation of the late father.

Although he will be remembered for his tireless dedication to his many areas of commitment, one pastime took Fr. Matthews mind off everything else — baseball.

"He loved going to the Blue Jays (but) never treated himself to a half-decent seat," said Power, who attended many games with Fr. Matthews after they first met in the early '90s. "We always sat up in the 500 section and I'd say why are you sitting up here? I came all the way from Welland to sit up in the sky?

"So the last game we went to I had four very good tickets, courtesy of a friend of mine, so we sat behind the Blue Jays' dugout. He just marveled."

Power described Fr. Matthews as a true priest, a good man and genuinely humble human being. He drove a small car, had a modest apartment and always gave what he could to those in need.

"He did splurge for his TV, he subscribed to Rogers Sportsnet or whatever it is that carries the Blue Jays games," said Power. "For him that was almost a mortal sin, but I said listen, you like baseball, watch the games."

Fr. Matthews was a lot of things to a lot of people. To Power he was a boss, a man of God and most of all a friend.

"What I'll miss is just Carl, I don't know how else to say it," said Power. "The bond of true friendship is never broken, death cannot break that, but there is a loss. He's not here, he won't be phoning me anymore, he won't be writing me anymore. I will miss him."

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