by Chuck Moody, Associate Editor-The Pittsburgh Catholic
April 20, 2009
Father Matt McClain is “very humbled and excited” that Bishop David Zubik has appointed him the diocesan director of vocations.
“I was a bit surprised by the appointment because I had been the pastor of St. Peter’s for just a year and a half,” said Father McClain, who in addition to serving as pastor of the Slippery Rock parish, which includes St. Anthony Church in Forestville, also was director of campus ministry at the Newman Center at Slippery Rock University. “I had thought that I would be at my current assignment longer, but I do understand the importance of the mission of the vocation director and the great need that our diocese has.”
Father McClain is scheduled to begin his new position on April 20.
“I was humbled to be chosen because of the many great priests who have filled this role to whatever degree in the past,” he said. “The vocation director when I was discerning a vocation was Bishop Ed Burns (former rector of St. Paul Seminary and recently ordained as bishop of Juneau, Alaska). “He was a tremendous help to me. I am excited about the appointment because I am excited about the priesthood and about the church in the Diocese of Pittsburgh. There is a new excitement about living the faith in our diocese.
“Bishop Zubik has engaged people where they are — in real life —and has encouraged us to see that our faith is powerful and relevant in today’s society. I am so excited to talk about the priesthood because I have seen firsthand what an awesome, humbling, meaningful and powerful life it can be. The people in this diocese love their priests and for good reason. The priests of this diocese are outstanding and are a wonderful brotherhood to be a part of.”
Father McClain said Bishop Burns and Father Jim Wehner, former rector of the seminary and now pastor of St. Thomas More in Bethel Park, “had a lot of the programs and events up and running.”
“So I come to the work with a great foundation already laid,” he said. “Unlike my predecessors, vocations will be my primary responsibility, and so I will have more time and more freedom to be out in the diocese to meet the men who are possibly discerning a vocation where they are. I will have more freedom to go to them. The bishop has encouraged me to be present as much as I can with the many campus ministry programs going on on the college campuses in the diocese. I also intend to be present to the Catholic high schools and the many wonderful youth ministry programs that are in the diocese.
“In addition to being physically present, we intend to have a much larger and more accessible presence on the Internet. This is another way that we can meet those trying to figure out what God is calling them to right where they are. Facebook and YouTube are sites that a lot of young people look at every day. We need to be there. It sounds odd, but by using these tools we can really target the kind of man we are looking for and get in front of him, and at least plant a seed or a question in his heart.”
Father McClain was ordained in 2002. Since his ordination, he served as parochial vicar at St. Alexis in Wexford and St. Bonaventure in Glenshaw and as chaplain at Mount Alvernia High School in Millvale before going to St. Peter Parish, first as administrator then as pastor. He believes all of his previous assignments will help him in his new position.
“St. Alexis and St. Bonaventure both have great youth ministry programs that gave me a lot of experience working with young people, as did the work at Mount Alvernia,” he said. “The overall experience of parish life has been great. As a priest in a parish, you get to be with people in a totally intimate way. You are present for people’s highest highs and lowest lows, and you are with them in their everyday life. Priesthood is awesome in itself, but priesthood in the context of a parish is, I think, just tremendously beautiful and humbling.
“The Newman Center work will, I think, be of tremendous help to me. It has been inspiring to me to see the level of faith that so many college students have today. The world, especially the world on the campus of a public university, is in so many ways contrary to the Gospel. To stand up and be counted as a Christian, and especially as a Catholic Christian on these campuses, takes a lot of courage. I don’t know that I had this kind of courage when I was in college. The young people at Slippery Rock humble me with their faith. I think that my experience at SRU clarified for me the challenges to living the Gospel that young people face today.”
Father McClain thinks the fact that he was ordained fewer than seven years ago also will help him in his new assignment.
“It will be helpful that my seminary experience was not too long ago,” he said. “The world has changed very quickly, and I know that the challenges to living a chaste and moral life are probably greater for the young men of today than they were for me. However, the experience of seminary is still fresh in my mind, and I think that I can give some insight to men who are not sure what to expect.”
Father McClain said his uncle, Capuchin Father Bob McCreary, was a “tremendous influence on my life” in helping him to decide to enter the seminary and in other aspects of life.
“He is a wonderful, humble man and is full of wisdom,” Father McClain said. “He was a great help to me in my discernment, but his help started much earlier than that. One of the greatest gifts he gave me, as far as my vocation goes, is that he allowed me to see that priests were real people, regular guys, who played basketball, and went to the beach and liked to just sit and have a drink together.
“Many times in my years growing up I got to just do normal, fun things like play sports and see movies and just have dinner with my uncle and his friends like Fathers Lou Petruha, Bernard Finerty, Bill Weithorn, Gary Stakem, Ward Stakem, Paul Kuppe and others. I came to know these guys as priests yes, but also just as regular guys who were a lot of fun to be with for me and my family. My great uncle, Father Anthony Wherle, who died a year before I was born, did the same for my uncle.”
Father McClain’s uncle is a professor at St. Mary’s Seminary and Borromeo College in Wickliffe, Ohio, in the Diocese of Cleveland. The first piece of advice Father McClain would give to a man who is considering entering the seminary is “to pray.”
“You have got to give God some space so he can talk to you,” he said. “I would encourage them to talk to their pastor. There are so many great priests in this diocese, and I know that they will love to encourage you and listen to you. I would also encourage the man to talk to me. I know how scary it can be to try and figure this vocation stuff out. The world today is telling you that the very idea of the life of a priest is impossible. It is not. It is not only possible, but is so meaningful and challenging and joyful. You need to hear this side of the story, too.
“The last piece of advice that I would give may sound strange, but I think it’s important that men discerning a vocation to the priesthood know that saying ‘yes’ to coming to the seminary is not the final ‘yes.’ Some of my dearest friends who were in seminary with me, after saying ‘yes’ and coming to the seminary, discerned that they were called to a different life. These men have become tremendous husbands and fathers. They do not look at their time in seminary as a waste. It was a great gift for them and it helped them to grow as Catholic men.
“Don’t get me wrong. I hope that every single man in seminary today is ordained a priest, serves the diocese well, and has a joy-filled and holy priesthood. But sometimes God calls us to different things, and this can be great as well. The church is in great need of great priests, and great fathers and husbands. If you feel God challenging you, nudging you even to consider the priesthood, come and see. Give it a shot. It will not be a waste of time.”