By Emily Lukasik, Animator for Southwestern Ontario
We join the Diocese of London in sorrow and prayer after the sudden death on Monday, November 15, 2021, of Fr. Matthew George, a beloved priest and an ardent supporter of the mission of Development and Peace — Caritas Canada.
But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.Matthew 24:36
This was the Gospel reading this past Sunday, which, prophetically, would be Fr. Matt’s last Sunday mass before a car accident tragically took his life the next day. It was also the fifth World Day of the Poor. To those who knew Fr. Matt and his commitment to social justice, this timing was the work of the Holy Spirit.
On Tuesday evening, the members of Development and Peace’s London diocesan council gathered for their monthly meeting with heavy hearts.
Council co-chair Kim Frias, a good friend of the late father, opened with a beautiful prayer from the Dutch theologian, Henri Nouwen that cites Jesus: “It is for your good that I leave, because unless I leave my Spirit cannot come.” She went on to conclude, “Now we have a true advocate in heaven.”
To offset their grief, the group shared joyful memories of Fr. Matt.
“I always admired Fr. Matt because he was so much in solidarity with us,” said Bonnie Drago, recalling his passion for the poor and his personable approach to pastoral care. “He was right in there with the people.”
“We were blessed to know him pretty well,” Frias declared, her face lighting up as she described Fr. Matt’s “gift of hospitality,” which included dropping by with “a bag full of groceries” and “multiple types of meat.” She laughed as she recounted a now legendary church chilli contest in which Fr. Matt had wooed the judges with his guitar rendition of Ring of Fire, only to later confess that he’d bought his chilli at Wendy’s!
Diocesan council co-chair Erma Weernink said, “He gave me a voice,” appreciating how strong of an advocate Fr. Matt was for Development and Peace. “When he came to Zurich [Ont.], he introduced Development and Peace to a church that was initially resistant; but that didn’t matter. He had such charisma and genuine honesty that people listened…. He was able to enact change.” She noted that Fr. Matt was on the parish’s social justice committee and even joined the diocesan council for a while.
Members also remembered signs of Fr. Matt’s generous spirit, from his crocheting of a baptism gift during a diocesan council meeting to his renting of a bouncy castle for a high school retreat.
Fr. Matt acquired true national fame in the Development and Peace community when he set up his Buns of Solidarity fundraising page for Share Lent last year. He raised over $3,800 by doing 100 squats a day for 28 days. He clearly knew how to put faith into action!
Because Fr. Matt was such a pillar of his community, his passing was covered on the local news.
During his homily last Sunday, Fr. Matt shared Development and Peace’s fall campaign, a fitting link to the World Day of the Poor. He asked, “Do you look at this world that is so disjointed, such a mess…? What do we choose to see? Do we say, ‘Well that’s just the way [it] works?’ Or do we see God calling us, in the midst of this tumult, in the midst of this brokenness, to proclaim the coming of the Son of man, the day of the Lord? It comes with justice.”
Closing the diocesan council’s meeting, co-chair Frias prayed, “May he look over us and advocate for us and intercede for us because we can’t do it alone.” The group responded with a fervent “Amen!”
Editor’s note: Before fate intervened to turn it into an obituary, this article was to have appeared a few weeks later in our Start supporters series. Fr. Matthew George will, however, remain a star who inspires Development and Peace supporters.