In 2012, Bishop Bill Wright asked Fr Matthew to study canon law at Saint Paul University, Ottawa where he completed graduate diplomas in Canon Law and Conflict Resolution, Canon Law and Ecclesiastical Management, a Licence in Canon Law and a Masters in Canon Law. On his return to the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle in 2015, Bishop Bill appointed him Chancellor of the Diocese and Canonical Advisor.
What Catholic schools did you attend?
St Mary’s Catholic Primary School in my hometown of Mudgee, and then Years 5 and 6 at Marist Brothers, Kogarah after my family moved to Sydney. My father was appointed as an automotive teacher at the Newcastle Technical College and I completed my secondary education at Marist Brothers, Hamilton (which later became St Francis Xavier’s College).
Why did your parents choose a Catholic education?
I do not think they would have thought to do anything else. Being a Catholic family, we have always been involved in our parishes.
What is your fondest memory from your time at Marist Brothers, Hamilton?
I enjoyed the study and made some lifelong friendships. There were some good teachers who took an interest and looked after students.
Why did you leave in Year 10 to begin a traineeship?
It was not planned. The chief chemist from BHP used to visit the school each year and ask for the best science students, who were then offered a job. The Year 12 boys would take on an industrial chemist traineeship at the University of Newcastle. When I was in Year 10, it was the first year he also made an offer to students in our form, to complete a TAFE equivalent – a Certificate in Chemistry. Myself and three other boys were selected and when I arrived home to tell mum and dad I had been offered the job, they nearly flipped because they thought I would go further in my studies. But, in the end, I decided to take the job.
My Marist Brothers science teacher was very supportive, which made the decision easier. The traineeship, which I took on in 1976, led me to work as an industrial chemist at BHP for six years, followed by two years at Cargo Superintendents and two years at Tomago Aluminum.
After a decade of working as an industrial chemist, why switch careers and become a priest?
Parallel to my work as an industrial chemist was my involvement with my local Toronto parish. At that time, the parish was engaged in selling five sites and building a new community complex on a more central site including a church, a school, and a youth centre. I became involved in many aspects of this physical move and especially interested in the spiritual side of Church life. I was involved in developing and delivering youth and adult retreats both within the parish and within the Diocese. I felt I had found a better use for my gifts and talents. Working with and helping people was more rewarding than working as a chemist. Chemists were paid well, and the lifestyle attached to the job was also good, but it was not fulfilling.
My relationship with my parish priest heavily influenced my decision to move from enjoying the parish life personally, to pursuing it as a vocation. I commenced studies in 1986, was ordained in 1993 and appointed as assistant priest to Bishop’s House, Maitland.
You’ve experienced a lot of change in your life; moving towns at a young age, changing vocations in your 20s, leading various parishes, and living in Canada. Then Bishop Bill asked you to study canon law and you were appointed Chancellor of the Diocese and canonical adviser. What advice would you give on managing change?
People wish to believe that things will always stay the same and be stable. It's an optical or mental illusion we create to provide ourselves with some sort of security. It’s like gravity. How would we deal with not believing in it? Life is all about change and always will be. You have a choice to embrace it and work with it, and grow as an individual through those challenges, big or small. And I encourage people to do so. I make two recommendations to navigating change. Identify what scares you so you can maintain better control. Put yourself in the role as a player in the change rather than a victim.
The Church is on the verge of change due to the Plenary Council and the Synod. Your thoughts?
It is a bit scary, but again, it comes back to change. The world's changing, people's expectations of everybody are changing, the way relationships are operating are changing. covid has given us a real pause to reflect on how we relate to one another. The Church is all about relationships. When you cannot meet and cannot talk, you are not able to relate. The biggest change the Plenary Council and the Synod must consider is how we relate to one another in this modern world.