Bishop Matthiesen was born June 11,1921, in Olfen, TX, and died in Amarillo on March 22, 2010. He was ordained as a priest for the Catholic Diocese of Amarillo on March 10, 1946. After receiving a Master’s Degree in Journalism in 1948, he was appointed editor of the diocesan newspaper The West Texas Catholic, which featured his column “Wise and Otherwise” until 1998. In 1954, he became the founding pastor of St. Laurence Parish in Amarillo. In 1961, he received another Master’s Degree, this time in Secondary School Administration, and in 1962, was appointed rector of St. Lucian’s Preparatory Seminary in Amarillo. He was awarded a Doctorate of Letters in Journalism in 1961, and in 1968, he was named Principal of Alamo Catholic High School. In addition, for nine years he was pastor of St. Francis Parish NE of Amarillo. Ordained Bishop of the Amarillo Diocese in 1980, he served until his retirement in 1997.
His “retirement” years were almost as active as those before. He became chaplain of the Capuchin Poor Clare Sisters, and a member of the boards of directors of Ascension Academy, St. Ann’s Nursing Home, and the Catholic Historical Society. He published three books: Wise and Otherwise: The Life and Times of a Cottonpicking Texas Bishop (in 2004); The Golden Years: The History of St. Laurence Cathedral in Amarillo (2005); and Lieber Bernard und Elise: The Lives and Times of a German Texas Family (2009). Bishop Matt received many honors in his lifetime. Among them was the Isaac Hecker Award for Social Justice in 1984 and the Ketteler Award for Social Justice in 2002. In 2009, he was presented with the Teacher of Peace Award from Pax Christi USA, which promotes nonviolence, disarmament and human rights. In his speech to Pax Christi members, accepting the peace award, Bishop Matt spoke of his conversion to deep peace.
After a personal challenge by Sister Regina Foppe in 1981, “There came,” he said, “a barrage of wake-up calls, the first as I was praying Psalm 33. When I read the stanza, A vain hope for safety is the horse; despite its power it cannot save something, someone- was it the Spirit? “tricked me into praying, “A vain hope for safety is the nuclear bomb; despite its power it cannot save I shook that off, but then came an onslaught of voices and people. By year’s end they had me fully involved in the debate about the morality of the production, assembly, deployment of nuclear weapons and the ability and intent we had and still have of destroying the society of aggressor nations.”
He then urged the other U.S. Catholic Bishops “to do what we promised to do in our 1983 pastoral letter, ‘The Challenge of Peace: God’s Promise and Our Response’, namely, that once the Cold War was over and the circumstances no longer existed that led us to give strictly conditioned moral approval of the possession of nuclear weapons as a deterrent to aggression, we would withdraw our approval. In effect, we would not only… consign the just war theory to the dust bin of history, but along with it our conditioned blessing on the possession nuclear weapons.” Finally, Bishop Matt asked everyone to pledge themselves “to abolish not only nuclear weapons, but war itself, and with it torture, the death penalty, homophobia, racism, sexism, retributive justice, the chasm between the greedy and homeless and hungry poor, and to reduce resort to abortion.” Over the years, Bishop Matt talked several times at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Amarillo and came to know a number of its members. He worked with many of them in building the Peace Farm and pursuing issues of social justice. The Peace Farm, which sold its land and buildings in 2008, wanted to give the Madre to a memorial for Bishop Matt as a tribute to his ecumenical vision and his great desire for peace and social justice. He was an internationally known man of conscience. Now he will be remembered locally.
The Madre del Mundo Statue was created by artist/potter/sculptor Marsha Gomez. Marsha was an American Indian/Hispanic artist who directed Alma de Mujer Center for indigenous women artists, a conference center near Austin, TX. She designed the Madre to be inclusive of all women, so each could see herself in the image, whether African-American, Asian, American Indian, Hispanic or white. Many see the image as Mary; others see her as the divine feminine in their own tradition.
The first Madre, a cast mold of fiberglass, was installed near the Nevada Test Site. She was seized by authorities at one point, but later returned, and is currently in a shrine near Cactus Springs, NV. Another is located at a refugee center near El Paso that serves as a reception center for Central American and other refugees; A third Madre is located near Austin. The concrete mold, with Styrofoam inside, was brought to the Peace Farm near Amarillo, TX in 1989, and installed as a symbol of resistance to nuclear weapons. Marsha and several friends did the installation there and led a dedication ceremony at a Mother’s Day Peace Camp.Bishop Matthiesen was important in establishing the Peace Farm. When the land was purchased in 1986, he helped with arranging financing for water, electricity, a road and the first residence on the site. Throughout his tenure as Bishop of Amarillo, he remained supportive, and after retirement became a board member and board president. Members of AUUF also provided support, moral and material, and the Fellowship has always been open to programming and educational events. In the years the Madre remained at the Peace Farm she drew regular visitors for meditation and passers-by from the highway. Many left small offerings, from rocks to coins to notes and various mementos. The Peace Farm is happy to give the Madre to the Fellowship as a memorial to Bishop Matt and our mutual quest for world peace on this day, April 17, 2011.