Celebrating Jesuit Brothers
Matt Wooters, SJ
Current Ministry: Vocation Promoter, Midwest Jesuits
Br. Matt Wooters, SJ, was raised in Silver Spring, Maryland. The third of four boys to Charlie and Sheila Wooters. Matt doesn’t remember a time meeting the Jesuits because they were around from an early age. Bishop George Murray, SJ, was a family friend, long before he was a bishop or priest. Matt’s older brothers proceeded him at Georgetown Prep, and he followed suit. After Prep, Matt moved to Cleveland to study political science at John Carroll University. At JCU, Matt was in a fraternity, on the crew team, involved in campus ministry and was even the school mascot. (Go Blue Streaks!) After graduating from JCU, Matt moved to Belize for two years with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, where he served as a retreat leader in Punta Gorda and the surrounding villages. After Belize, Matt taught 7th and 8th grade at University of Detroit High School and Academy. Matt entered the Jesuits in 2012 and worked at a homeless shelter, taught ESL to adult refugees and served as a hospital chaplain. Matt took vows as a brother in 2014. Matt was missioned to Saint Louis University to get a master’s in social work where he worked with people experiencing homelessness, as well as those with HIV. He also lived and worked at a migrant shelter in Guadalajara, Mexico, for six months. After first studies, Matt was missioned to Nativity Jesuit Academy, a K-8 school in Milwaukee, to be the school’s first school counselor for two wild and wonderful years. After that, Matt was missioned to the Jesuit School of Theology of Santa Clara University for a master’s degree in theological studies. Matt created a popular prayer podcast during the pandemic which turned into his thesis, “Along the Way: Praying Together as Pilgrims in A Pandemic.” After theology studies, Matt has been missioned to join the vocations team for the Midwest province.
Academic Degrees: Bachelor’s degree in political science, John Carroll University; Master of Social Work from Saint Louis University; Master of Theological Studies from the Jesuit School of Theology of Santa Clara University
What drew you to become a Jesuit? What drew you to become a brother?
Joy! The Jesuits I knew in high school and college were men of joy. I loved how smart they were, how engaged they were in current events, struggles for justice and intellectual matters. I admired how they cared for each other and teased each other in equal measure. They had something I couldn’t quite put my finger on but knew I wanted.
Turns out that “thing” was a deep awareness of being loved by God and loving others as a response to that love.
Having grown up with three brothers and having been a fraternity brother, this is a role I know well. Being a Religious brother is both similar and different to other forms of brotherhood, but there are a few consistent elements. Accompanying people however and wherever they are, especially the excluded who feel far from the church, is a big part of that for me. As a brother, I am in a horizontal relationship with all I meet. There’s a sacredness to that accompaniment.
An image stands out to me: When I lived in Belize there was an elderly brother, Br. Teel, who worked at the parish. For official church matters — baptisms, weddings and the like — folks went in the front door to meet with the pastor; for less official, but equally weighty matters — a truck filled with school children that needed gas, a young mother who needed some help or a farmer who was having a hard year — they all went in the back door to meet Br. Teel. Both doors lead to the church, and as a brother I hope to meet people by whichever door they feel more comfortable coming in.
Describe one moment in your ministry life that has impacted you.
In May 2020, back when the pandemic was quite scary still, I moved to Detroit to help keep the Pope Francis Center open. They had a small team of an amazingly committed staff but couldn’t use their usual teams of volunteers to feed or offer showers and laundry to the guests. It felt like the reason I became a Jesuit and took these vows, to go where the need was greatest, to serve breakfast to the hungry, listen to the overlooked and love those who have been left out.
What is your favorite book, movie, music, or TV show you’ve encountered since entering the Society and why do you love it?
My friend Padraig O’Tuama’s book “In The Shelter” is a gorgeous, expansive and hospitable work. Even though his experience is unique to his life, his storytelling makes everyone who reads it feel known. It is the spiritual storytelling equivalent of a hot cup of coffee on a rainy Sunday morning in October while sitting in a high-backed chair with a dog nearby. Or something like that.
Who is a spiritual hero of yours? Why?
Miguel Pro was a Mexican Jesuit who was filled with joy and mischief. He was martyred by firing squad for sneaking around to say Mass when that was illegal. His life was utterly focused on Christ and the people he was serving and there was a levity to him. His situation was dire, but he did not let the darkness overwhelm his Christ-rooted joy. San Miguel Pro — unofficial patron saint of holy troublemakers — pray for us!
What’s one interesting fact about yourself not everyone would know?
Despite using social media for a lot of my ministry over the past few years, it might surprise folks to learn that I kind of hate it and think the algorithms are set up to make people feel terrible! Don’t get me started on “Catholic Twitter” i.e., the meanest place on the internet. Dear reader, no one has ever been converted to the love of Christ because of a pithy retort in the comment section. Let’s collectively get back to foot washing and away from digital stone throwing.
Describe the life of a Jesuit brother. One catch: You must use only six words.
Relationships make the Light shine bright.
What does the spirituality of a brother mean to you? How have you lived it out?
Brothers historically were simple men with deep faith who cared for the priests, scholastics and all people they encountered. They (we) hopefully model for a hurt and broken world the love of Christ, our brother, who walks with us in our triumphs and our tragedies. I’d like to think I spread joy and compassion to those I encounter … maybe my community mates would have other opinions!
What does the “magis” mean to you? How do you live it out?
To be blunt, the Magis (a beautifully overused and, I fear, watered-down word in Jesuit circles) for me, means getting over myself. If I make my life, vocation or work about me and not Christ, I’ve got it seriously twisted and need to check myself. I can only give more fully when I remember that I don’t matter in this whole beautiful, unruly story of salvation history. God’s will be done whether I am on board or not, so I better get to work to get over myself and do my little bit to help out along the way. As the Spiritual Exercises teach us: If it brings us closer to God, keep it up! If it (whatever the “it” is) gets in the way of our relationship with God or others, ditch it.