In the presence of the Bishop of Birmingham, the Franciscan Missionaries of the Eternal Word, his family and friends, and with thousands of EWTN viewers watching, Br. Matthew Mary of the Exaltation of the Cross, reverently and sincerely professed perpetual vows on Monday August 11, 2014.
Perpetual professions are always celebrated with much praise and thanksgiving to God. It is blessed occasion for a man to vow to live in poverty, chastity and obedience in accordance of the Rule St. Francis of Assisi for the rest of his life. In other words, the Friar vows to live radically and literally like Jesus Christ as taught by his Holy Father St. Francis of Assisi. Br. Matthew wholeheartedly embraced this way of life as he professed perpetual vows. However, there was a time when he knew very little about consecrated life and about the Catholic faith.
As a child living in Wilmington, Delaware, Jason (Br. Matthew) learned about the Christian faith from his parents. They taught him and his siblings how to pray, introduced them to Bible stories, and instructed them in morals and virtues. Holidays such as Christmas and Easter were celebrated joyfully and festively in the home but rarely did these celebrations begin with church services. Though his family called themselves Christians, they did not belong to a denomination or church community. In fact Jason and his siblings were not baptized.
In his youth religion was not among Jason’s favorite interests. “At times, my father would discuss certain accounts or readings from scripture with me and I would ask him questions… The fact that I never went as far as to do my own research shows that my interest level was not that high; at least not as high as my interest in video games,” said Br. Matthew.
Nonetheless, he had an interest in learning and excelled in academics. While in the sixth grade a teacher recognized his potential and gave him the inspiration to excel. “My performance at school greatly improved in sixth grade thanks to the kindness and loving support of my teacher Mrs. Hughes,” said Brother. This influence remains with him today and has resulted in above average academic performances in college and at the seminary. “She helped me to accomplish more than I ever thought I could… Beginning in sixth grade, my performance improved to above average. I indeed owe her a huge debt of gratitude.”
Jason also excelled and continues to excel in music. In high school he played the alto saxophone in concert band and tuba or saxophone in marching band. He was awarded, the “Unsung Hero” award, one of the marching bands highest honors for work ethic and performance. “I had no expectation of winning that award whatsoever. The most impressive part is that the classmates themselves had chosen the recipient of the award, which deeply moved me,” he said.
After graduating in 1999, as member of the National Honors Society, he continued working part-time at Burger King. In the fall he began working full-time at Neurology Associates while attending part-time classes at Delaware Technical and Community College (DTCC). Four years later was hired by Delaware Curative Workshop. He graduated from DTCC summa cum laude in May 2007.
He had many academic and employment achievements but nothing can compare to the gift he received on April 19, 2003.
During the Lenten season of 2002, Sue, a friend of Jason’s mother Beverly, informed her about the RCIA program at Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish. She then shared this information with her family. “When my mother told me about RCIA, I was very excited to give it a try,” said Brother. About 5 months later, he and his siblings began RCIA and all were baptized and received into the Catholic Church on April 19, 2003. His newfound faith suddenly became the center of his life.
“I had loved learning about the faith in RCIA and afterwards I continued my faith formation by reading books and watching EWTN.”
Jason still struggled with understanding Church teachings and questioned miracles and God’s presence in history. He eventually found answers through prayer and research. “Only after much time in prayer, reflection, reading, and learning did I come to realize that God is really and truly active all throughout history and especially in the present. This realization further deepened my relationship with God. At this time I was still trying to figure out what I should be doing with my life” he related.
While he attended a Sunday Mass in 2004, one of the general intercessions was for more laborers to be sent out into the harvest. This was a prayer for an increase in vocations. “When I heard this I thought to myself, ‘Maybe this is what God wants me to do.” After this, he did not think about a vocation again until February 2005 when he met with the vocation director for the Diocese of Wilmington. “Since I was basically ignorant when it came to a vocation to the priesthood or religious life, he gave me some explanation of the difference between religious life and the diocesan priesthood. I felt more inclined towards the religious life,” he said.
During his discernment Jason, visited two religious communities, the Capuchins and the Franciscan Missionaries of the Eternal Word. After visiting with the MFVA’s twice in 2007, he joined them in September of the same year. On August 8, 2008 he entered novitiate and was given the name Brother Matthew Mary of the Exaltation of the Cross. A year later he made his first profession of vows and started studying philosophy at the St. Joseph House of Studies. In the fall of 2011, he began a pre-theology degree completion program at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary and University. Brother received his undergraduate degree with summa cum laude honors in May 2013.
Br. Matthew did a pastoral year during the 2013/ 2014 academic year. Throughout this time, he served as a bookkeeper, mentored his fellow temporary professed brothers, completed a community hymnal, worked in the EWTN studio, and occasionally cantered at the TV Mass and accompanied MFVA priests on parish assignments. He will soon return to Mount St. Mary’s Seminary to begin studying theology.