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Remembering Father Vincent Mathews



Father 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 1960’s through the mid-1990’s, Father 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 Father 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.”

Father 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.”

 I invite alumnae readers of this blog to share your memories of Father Mathews in the comments section below.  Meanwhile, although I could recount my own memories, instead I will share the words of Father Mathews, himself, in two prayers that exemplify the kind of priest, teacher and inspiration he was:

mathews 4

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 1960’s — Father Mathews gave this invocation:

A Prayer for 1970:  Invocation at Commencement, May 31, 1970
by Reverend Vincent Mathews

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 the, 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.


mathews 3

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

Invocation for the Class of 1972
by the Rev. Vincent dePaul Mathews

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 Father 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!

Please add your memories of Father Mathews by clicking on the comment link….

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9 Responses to Remembering Father Vincent Mathews

  1. Martha (Marti) mcnichol Williams says:

    I met father Vince Matthews in 1972 through his good friend mike Williams who I later married.
    Vince was a steady visitor in our lives-always a source of love, fun, and concerned conversation. We loved him- so much so that our third child carries his name “Matthew”.
    God speed Matt-til we meet again!

  2. Tom Reed says:

    I met Fr. Vince in 1958 at the Josephinum Seminary in Ohio. I was 20 years old, and a recovering racist, aconservative Mississippi lad. He was a big part of my awakening, done by his example, his classes, his humor and by in general by being totally honest in challenging us to think. I accepted the challenge and thanks to him, I became a activist priest in Mississippi and then a social worker. The pictures posted of him are just beautiful, and accurate. He was one of the best and most influential people in my whole life. Take care of him.

  3. Laurie J. Drazek. Class of 1983 says:

    Loved Fr. Matthews! His encouragement, and support were endless! He made a major impact on my Trinity experience, and for that I am forever grateful!

  4. Beata Welsh, Class of '71 says:

    Fr. Matthews taught me in Freshman Soc. and helped change my life. Learn to question, do your own research, keep an open mind, stand for justice and love one another were a few of the gifts he gave to us. Thank you Father. We carry on in your place. BEW

  5. Kristen Butler '92 says:

    When I think about my time at Trinity, my interactions with Father Mathews, are foremost in my mind. As a transfer student and sociology major, I felt a sort of isolated and out of place, and his kind words and firm guidance were invaluable to my transition into the Trinity community. His office (my goodness, that tiny, cluttered office!) was a safe haven. I’ll remember him very fondly and I’ll always be grateful for his kindness.

  6. Kathy Waehler 71' says:

    Father Mathews was an extraordinary human being. His passionate teaching and commitment to social change influenced all of us who had the privilege of being in his class.
    He was a visionary in his establishment of internships. His influence remains with me to this day.

  7. Suzanne C Days says:

    What a Bummer! He was a great teacher and chair of my major. It is due to his foresight that I have had the success that I have had in my various careers. He offered practicums and internships from Freshman year on which enabled me to hold positions that normally only MSW’s could hold. That early exposure to multiple work environments enabled me to become a COO of a company at a young age having seen the problems that many of the organizations I worked in had. I am grateful to him and sad that he died. He was a very kind and funny man who had a lot of compassion for us students.


  8. rev. anthony t. curran says:

    I was taught by Vince at the Josephinum and was privileged to represent the school at his funeral at St. Joseph’s Reading, his home parish where he offered his first Mass.Long live the Drum Major for Justice.
    Fr. Tony Curran, Shamokin, Pa; Atlanta; Easton, Pa.

  9. Tom Mathews says:

    With the passing of my brother, Father Vince, I am all that’s left of seven children…the “last of the Mohicans.” There is an old Irish saying that the last born will early on be heir to hand-me-downs and later be left to stand watch as all go before.
    Beyond his academic work, Father Vince sought to advance public policies more sensitive and responsive to poor people… government policies more human toward those among us whom are left without the advantages of wealth, influence, connections and power.
    I served disadvantaged people as a union organizer, our brother Bill as an educator, a political activist and even as an enlightened businessman.
    Brother Vince served these same persons…many people of color, as a priest and caring comrade.
    During those last years, while his physical strength and memory increasingly challenged him, Vince never uttered a single word of complaint and upon his death, one of the nurses (a union member) told my sister-in-law Ruth that it was no less than “an honor” to care for him.
    The poet Dylan Thomas, overcome as a young man by the dying of his father expressed a terrible fury and anger: “Old age should burn and rage at close of day; Do not go gentle into that good night, Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” Father Vince was not one to rage and he went gentle into that good night. He died in his sleep. His work was done.
    On behalf of our family I wish to thank Trinity’s president and members of the faculty, as well as so many alumni for their kind words and sympathy.
    More than anything else, our profound gratitude for this remembering of our Vince and yours.

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Patricia A. McGuire, President, Trinity, 125 Michigan Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20017
Phone: 202.884.9050   Email: