Matthew D. Cortese, SJ
Highlights of Jesuit Formation:
- Volunteered with the Footprints pediatric palliative care program at Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital in St. Louis, where he played guitar for patients and helped support families.
- Learned Spanish in Cochabamba, Bolivia, and in Xela, Guatemala.
- Worked with migrants in El Paso, Texas, on the U.S.-Mexico border.
Will pursue studies in liturgical studies.
Matt Cortese, SJ, is originally from Mattituck, New York, a relatively small town on the eastern end of Long Island. He is the only child of Michael and Victoria Witherspoon Cortese, a middle school science teacher and an eldercare social worker, respectively. He grew up involved in parish ministry at Sacred Heart Parish/Our Lady of Good Counsel in Mattituck and in local youth ministry. He met the Jesuits both at Inisfada, the former Jesuit retreat house on Long Island, and especially at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts. While at Holy Cross, he majored in religious studies/theology and studied abroad at Trinity College Dublin. After college, he spent a year as a Jesuit Volunteer in Seattle, Washington, working at Providence Hospice’s Transitions Program with those who were experiencing a terminal or life-limiting illness. It was this experience perhaps most of all that led him to want to pursue ministry: His clients taught him so much about suffering, love and what ultimately matters. After JVC, he earned a Master of Arts in Religion, specifically in liturgical studies, from Yale Divinity School/Institute of Sacred Music.
After graduating from Yale, he entered the Society at St. Andrew Hall in Syracuse, New York. He made the Spiritual Exercises at Eastern Point Retreat House in Gloucester, Massachusetts; spent some memorable time learning Spanish in Bolivia; and worked in campus ministry and at the Appalachian Institute for a semester at the former Wheeling Jesuit University in Wheeling, West Virginia. After vows, he studied philosophy at Saint Louis University; taught philosophy and theology at Le Moyne College in Syracuse as a regent; and continued theological studies at Regis College in Toronto. After ordination to the diaconate, he spent a pastoral year working as a deacon at St. Ignatius in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, specifically with the parish’s Hispanic community. His Mass of Thanksgiving will take place at Our Lady of Good Counsel in Mattituck, New York.
Bachelor’s degree, religious studies, College of the Holy Cross; Master of Arts in Religion, liturgical studies, Yale Divinity School; Master’s degree, philosophy, Saint Louis University; Master of Theology, Regis College, University of Toronto; Licentiate in Sacred Theology, Regis College, University of Toronto
What is your favorite book you’ve encountered since entering the Society?
When I was in first studies, I think the most affecting thing I read was probably Abelard’s “Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans,” specifically his response to the question on the atonement: the idea that Jesus “persever[ed] to the death and bound us to himself even more through love.” Abelard’s Jesus loves like a friend or parent who gives all to the beloved and enables him or her to love more and better. I became absorbed by the idea of such a lasting, binding, beautiful love.
Who’s your favorite saint, and why?
St. Peter Faber, first successful recruit of St. Ignatius of Loyola and first priest of the Society of Jesus! I wrote my S.T.L. thesis on Faber’s liturgical spirituality, particularly as conveyed in his “Memoriale.” Faber’s “Memoriale” is one of the most emotionally and spiritually honest Jesuit texts. He is sensitive, dedicated, sometimes melancholy and angsty, but so very committed to his ministry in 16th-century Germany, always keeping Jesus (in the fullness of his humanity) before him. Faber consistently refused to run away from his own inner life; he serves as a remarkable example of one who faced his own fears and adversities with tenderness and courage.
What is one hobby you’ve cultivated as a Jesuit, and why is it important to you?
While I certainly cooked and baked before I entered the Society, I’ve had a chance to hone and expand my skills as a Jesuit. I’ve made a number of my dad’s recipes for my various communities: chili, beef stew, meatloaf, etc. I particularly enjoy Latin American cuisine: a flan recipe I was gifted during regency, the secrets of making arepas that my Venezuelan Jesuit brother taught me while we were in COVID lockdown. I’ve also perfected a number of cookie recipes as a resident minister at Boston College. And I can prepare a variety of pretty mean pizzas.
What was one particularly meaningful experience you had during your formation, and why was it meaningful to you?
I think my time at the former Wheeling Jesuit University in Wheeling, West Virginia, included some of my most important months. I was there on long experiment as a novice and again the following summer, facilitating an experience for Cristo Rey students. These were technically two separate mini missions, but both were with people I loved. When in Wheeling, I think I learned how I wanted to be as a Jesuit: befriending those who worked at the university, serving students (many of whom were the first in their families to go to college), and engaging in faith and justice activities in an Appalachian context. Wheeling still represents for me the confluence of community and mission, of joy on the margins, of hope in the midst of adversity.
Tell your vocation story. One catch: You must use only six words.
Jesus transforms fear: acceptance, confidence, peace.
Where has your Jesuit vocation taken you that you never thought you would go?
Sharing caldo and tortillas in a small village in southern Belize.
What brings you joy?
In no particular order: A coffee or a home-cooked meal shared with friends and loved ones. Art museums. Coffee and chocolate. Fortune cookies. Discussions about the Bible.