Memory Eternal - Fr. John Matusiak
MEMORY ETERNAL! FR. JOHN MATUSIAK
Father John leaves behind so many people who have loved him, for his friendship, his service, and his own sacrificial love for them. He has been such a multi-talented and multi-tasking person that it would fill many pages just to list the categories of his accomplishments. I do not mean to do this, but to speak instead of the ways in which I have known him best - as a pastor, a friend, and especially as a husband, father, and grandfather to his family.
Father John established St Joseph Mission in 1989, after serving as dean of St Mary’s Cathedral in Minneapolis and rector of St Luke Parish in Palos Hills, Illinois. He began with a core of about 30 people, who frequented St Luke’s but lived at some distance to the west and north. Eventually, St Joseph Parish took root in Wheaton in Du Page County and grew rapidly from its initial 30 people to over 350 over twenty years. Fr John had a gift for choosing the right spot at the right time. But St Joseph’s also became the model for mission and parish development with an outreach to diverse Orthodox who were moving into a fast-growing area. The parish embraced three groups, serving three Sunday liturgies – a large English language group, a Polish Orthodox community, and a Ukrainian one. It also welcomed groups of Albanians, Ethiopians, and even Vietnamese at various times. All identified with St Joseph’s and with Fr John and his co-pastors, especially Father Joe Kopka, who had been with him from the beginning, and Fr Mykola Bodnarchuk. Fr John oversaw a large and active Sunday School. For years, St Joseph’s youth provided the majority of the Chicago Deanery Youth Camp, which Fr John often visited for art projects, averse though he was to the countryside and fresh air. He always supported and assisted us in our efforts to keep the camp alive and vital over the past 33 years. But, whatever anyone might say about factors that contributed to St Joseph’s growth and vitality, Fr John would always insist that the secret to church growth was simple: “just be nice to people.” St Joseph was and is a friendly place, where all can be at home and at ease, no matter where they’ve come from. Fr John welcomed and treated all his parishioners as friends. He was direct and said what he thought, but he cared about his people and he was there for them. No pretense, no unctuous hyper-piety, or phony ‘shmoozing’ , no standing on clerical privilege – he was he same real person to everyone.
Father John was a prolific and constant iconographer and mentor to anyone who wanted to learn. He filled and beautified St Joseph’s with literally dozens of icons of all subjects and sizes: on the iconostas, in the church, in the hall, and outside. His iconographic line drawings created a whole new graphic design for church publications. He was a gifted educator and he found simple ways of introducing youth to the art of creating icons. I am especially touched and grateful that Fr John devoted considerable time to helping my late wife Gina to paint new icons for SS Cyril and Methodius Church in Milwaukee in 1985. He was patient, generous and hospitable to her and to us. I pray that she is greeting him now in God’s Kingdom, having preceded him in death six years ago almost to the very week.
Father John and I supported one another in our parish ministries and in the work of the Chicago Deanery. We confided in one another. He grieved with me and I empathized and supported him and Barbara in their efforts to care for their daughter Juliana and her children. I will miss Fr John’s sharp quips and sometimes hilarious observations, as well the friendship we shared. Our deanery meetings, in his recent absence since his retirement, have lost some of their light-hearted atmosphere.
Father John retired as soon as he reached retirement age so that he and Barbara could devote more of their time to caring for their family. With their daughter Juliana facing bewildering and debilitating life-threatening illness, Fr John and Barbara gave themselves devotedly and tirelessly to caring for her and for her three children. They became full-time grandparents in spite of their own medical issues over the past several years. One could say that Fr John poured out his life in love for them. This was his final witness to us all, one that was there before he became well-known for his pastoral, writing, and educational work. He was a faithful, devoted, loving husband, father, and grandfather. The depth of his children’s and grandchildren’s love for him and pain at his loss was very evident at his burial. His parishioners and co-workers will miss him, but he is irreplaceable to his family. I recall one incident last year at one of our youth camps. His grandson missed his mom who had been going through some very precarious health issues. Fr John made the long drive to the camp just to talk to his grandson. They stood outside by his car for a long time – it seemed like a couple of hours. He spoke patiently and gently to his grandson, calming his anxieties as only a caring father figure could. The boy was able to stay for the rest of the camp and Father went home. I was moved by this. We can all learn something from Fr John and Barbara about unstinting love.
We won’t see another Fr John. He is one of a kind. I don’t mean to suggest that he was without faults. None of us is. As we say to Christ in the funeral prayer: “For You alone are without sin...” Let us commend him to our merciful Savior in our daily prayers and in our Eucharistic assemblies. And, in his memory, let us offer love and support to his traumatized and grieving family,
Fr Thomas Mueller 8/30/19