Fr. Matthews' extended stay comes to an end

  • October 28, 2010
Father Carl MatthewsJesuit Father Carl Matthews disbelieves his own birth certificate. In February he will be 80.

“So I’m way past my due date, I think,” Matthews told The Catholic Register. “I can’t get over looking at a birth certificate that I am the age that I am.”

Parishioners at St. John the Evangelist in Waubaushene, on Georgian Bay in the northern reaches of the archdiocese of Toronto, said a fond farewell to their energetic pastor of the past 16 years on Oct. 23. Matthews will take up duties as chaplain for the Sisters of St. Joseph of Toronto. He will be replaced in Waubaushene by Jesuit Father Stephen LeBlanc.

The former chair of the Toronto Catholic District School Board, former editor and publisher of The Catholic Register, former teacher and former campaigner for full funding of Catholic high schools never expected to spend much time as a parish pastor.

“I’ve enjoyed all the time I’ve been here. When I was appointed, I thought I would be here for three years, something like that,” he said. “But the years have rolled by.”

There was a lot to do.

He had a hand in consolidating a number of elementary schools in the area into St. Antoine Daniel Catholic School in Victoria Harbour. He built a new mission church on Christian Island. He began a tradition of annual bazaars that raise some $12,000 every year.

“He’s a real, born leader,” explained St. John’s parishioner Graham Webb. “I don’t know what Fr. Carl would have done if he hadn’t been a priest, but he would have been a leader.”

The parish in Waubaushene faces all the problems that most small town and rural parishes face, said Webb. That includes a greying congregation, a grand but expensive-to-maintain old church and a community that doesn’t have the close ties that once kept neighbours looking out for one another.

Webb gives Matthews credit for doing what’s necessary to help the parish cope. He raised the money for a new roof, new lighting and wiring, and a ramp that allows a lot of older parishioners to attend Mass.

“Fr. Carl built a ramp for the church so that they could go back into the church for the first time in many years,” said Webb.

Matthews gives the credit back to his parishioners.

“They’re good people,” he said. “No one’s wealthy. Everyone just works hard and supports themselves. Many now are of an age where they’re on government pensions, but they worked hard to reach that stage.”

Matthews entered the Jesuit novitiate in 1951 at age 19. He’s been a priest since 1966 and took his final vows in 1971. He’s not the sort to second guess.

“I like every job that I’ve had, and I thank God for giving me the privilege to serve in these different capacities,” he said.

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