Fr. Matthew Spencer, O.S.J.
Rector, Director of Communications
I never thought that one day I would be a religious brother, much less a seminarian in formation to be a priest. I was raised in a big family (eleven children!) and whenever my parents would bring up the idea of vocation, I figured that I would just find the right girl, get married and have a happy family. Even though I went on a few vocation retreats with the Oblates of St. Joseph in high school, I thought, “That’s a nice lifestyle for them, but I want something more exciting in life.”
In college I studied computer science, and after graduation I got a great job, making good money and working in a cutting edge field of software engineering. I loved software design and programming, and I was just waiting for God to send me a wife to complete my plans. A strange thing started happening though. Several people in very different circumstances asked me if I ever thought about being a priest. My reaction surprised me: I didn’t want anything to do with it! But God had other plans…
A few months later I found myself in the hospital, dying from a large bleed in my brain. “Why me?” was the question going through my head for many weeks. But I came to see on that hospital bed that writing software just wasn’t enough in life. I realized I wanted more, that God wanted more from me. Then the idea of vocation came up again, and I was surprised that my heart was a little more open. “Whatever you want God, I’m just tired of searching for what I want.”
I survived this ordeal and I spent the next few years in physical therapy and occupational therapy, learning how to return to a ‘normal’ lifestyle. In the process, I noticed that God had surrounded me with Oblate priests: Fr. Arnold, Fr. Chummar, and Fr. Carlos were all parish priests when I was child; Fr. Brian would visit my Newman Center in college and hang out with us after Mass; Fr. Larry helped me discern more deeply whether God might be calling me to a religious vocation; and Fr. John took me to my second World Youth Day in Toronto, despite my poor health. I realized that God had put these great priests and brothers in my life for a reason, and I soon found myself attracted more and more to their simple lives and their family spirit.
One of the turning points in my discernment was when I started to attend daily Mass. The very first day after making that decision, I was really surprised to hear the following words in the gospel: As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the customs post. He said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him (Matt 9:9). I felt like Jesus was speaking directly to me through this gospel. It’s amazing how God will use the simple ordinary events in our life to reveal his plan for us!
After two years of discernment and monthly visits with the Oblates, I applied and was accepted to enter as a candidate for the priesthood. That was in 2003. There were many questions left in my mind. What if my health got bad again? How hard is it going to be to give up my dream of being a husband and father? Am I going to be happy? Little did I know that God could handle all my doubts, one by one.
There have been many ups and downs along the way, but I never imagined that religious life would be such an exciting adventure! As I grow in love for God and my fellow brothers, I become more thankful all the time for this beautiful gift of a religious vocation in the Oblates of St. Joseph.