Remembering Fr. Vincent Mathews

Remembering Fr. Vincent Mathews

By President Patricia McGuire ’74

Fr. Vincent Mathews could never sit idly by while injustice ran amok, whether in the court system or politics or right here on Trinity’s campus. Revered, respected and beloved through several Trinity generations as professor and chair of the sociology department, from the late 1960s through the mid-1990s, Fr. Mathews’ forceful presence made an impact in every room he inhabited. Upon his death on July 2 this year, his obituary recited the voluminous, impressive facts of his multi-dimensional career as a priest, scholar, teacher and advocate for justice. Well beyond the sheer scope of his work, however, we Trinity alumnae remember him as one of the great intellectual and social leaders of our campus, a teacher who never failed to confront, challenge and goad us to take action. His legacy remains in the many lives of Trinity alumnae who accepted his challenge to work for justice, to refuse to stand down from ardent advocacy for social, political and economic justice.

Faculty colleagues remember Fr. Mathews with great fondness. Here are some of their memories:

Dr. Roberta Goldberg, Professor of Sociology:

“He was a valued mentor to me even before I began my career at Trinity, and of course, in the time we shared together while we were both here. He gave me a chance to spread my wings as a grad student and always was supportive. The students loved him and we all had great admiration of him and affection for him.”

Fr. Michael Gallagher, Professor Emeritus of Theology:

“A truly great man, a maverick in the best sense of the word. May he rest in peace.”

Dr. Susan Farnsworth, Professor of History:

“He was such a generous and important mentor for me, someone from whom I learned that the academic life can be productively combined with commitments to social justice causes. He was an excellent leader on Rank and Tenure and an absolutely memorable classroom presence; I can still hear his voice and his laugh. I know that he’ll be long remembered by generations of his Trinity colleagues and students. I send my deepest sympathy.”

On the occasion of the graduation of the Class of 1970 – a class well known for riding the crest of the wave of student activism in the late 1960s – Fr. Mathews gave this invocation:

A Prayer for 1970: Invocation at Commencement, May 31, 1970
Oh God, let this generation always ask: what is truth?
Let them always be discontented with injustice and burn with impatience.
Let them be creators of a new world rather than builders of walls against change.
Let them be despised agitators fighting against public opinion rather than bandwagon reformers waiting for opinion to change, flitting like butterflies after the safe and popular.
May neither the years nor the heavy responsibilities of life tarnish their ideals.
Whatever the cost, let them honestly face problems rather than avoid them, and fight the easy compromises that sell principles for pottage.
But above all, let them never build their happiness or security on the blood, sweat or servitude of black, brown, red, yellow or white brothers.
Give them courage to be losers, for one cannot win much without risking much.
And let them learn from your Son that jail, death on a cross, or a mocking world does not mean failure.
That in pursuing ideals to the very end, they are truly following Him.

Two years later, Fr. Mathews gave a similarly challenging invocation for the Class of 1972:

Invocation for the Class of 1972
Oh God, in these days of dimming hope, let these talented young women contribute to the hopes of humankind.
Throw open to them the doors of the world and let their sun shine in.
If we have needed their love, dedication and intelligence within the home, we need them even more within the world.
Let them not be women blindly or willing prisoners of the fictions of the past.
Rather than flee from freedom, let them seize and enlarge it.
Grant them a life without boxes or detailed maps, the right to dream of and choose uncharted worlds.
Let them be themselves.
Let each go her own way, but let all do battle for others.
For to have no goal beyond self is to go nowhere.
Let the givers of life become the staunchest defenders of its living, in justice and dignity….
The first enemy of all life predators…
An unending problem to those in power who would undermine it.
Let them honor welfare mothers more than Congress and value motherhood at more than $1.20 an hour.
Wherever human beings are in chains, poor or dishonored, let them be there.
For, in history, women have rights only as persons have rights.
Let them be persons.
Let them be for people.
Long ago, You chose twelve weak and improbably Apostles to reshape the world.Lend Your strength once again to the weak and improbably, to change the world within their reach.
For if the young are silent, who will speak?
If they do not love, who will care?
If they lack hope, who will try?
If all give up, who will win?

As we remember Fr. Mathews, let’s reflect once again on the challenges he gave us summarized so well in those two magnificent invocations. And let us give thanks for the gifts he shared with us!