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2024 Ordinands

Matthew S. Hendzel, SJ

Province: Canada

Hometown: Winnipeg, Manitoba

Highlights of Jesuit Formation:

  1. Found creative ways to offer retreat ministry during the various quarantines and lockdowns of COVID.
  2. Worked on and (after many years) completed his Ph.D. in systematic theology.
  3. Spent three weeks walking through the Eastern Townships of Quebec and one week staying and working with the monks at the Saint-Benoît-du-Lac monastery during his pilgrimage experience in the novitiate.

Will teach and work in campus ministry at Loyola High School in Montreal.

Matt in Kingston, Jamaica, where he helped at St. Anne’s Primary School during his long experiment as a novice.

Bachelor’s degree, religious studies, University of Manitoba; Master’s degree, systematic theology, Jesuit School of Theology of Santa Clara University; Master of Theological Studies, Regis College; Ph.D., systematic theology, University of St. Michael’s College

Matt serving at a school pre-retreat Mass at the Loyola High School chapel in Montreal with Fr. Len Altilia, SJ. (Tom Reynolds Photography)

Matthew S. Hendzel, SJ, was born and raised in Winnipeg, Manitoba, by his two wonderful parents, Len and Sharon, and his loving aunt, Marilyn. He met the Jesuits while pursuing his bachelor’s degree at the University of Manitoba, which began to raise in him serious questions of a vocation in the Society of Jesus. After completing a master’s degree in systematic theology at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California, Matthew began doctoral studies in theology at the University of St. Michael’s College at the University of Toronto. Taking a two-year leave of absence from the program, Matthew entered the novitiate in Montreal the day after he successfully defended his thesis proposal. As a novice, he worked at Loyola High School in Montreal and spent five months in Kingston, Jamaica, serving St. Anne’s parish and primary school, as well as teaching at St. Michael’s College and Seminary. For first studies, Matthew returned to his doctoral program in Toronto and was awarded his Ph.D. in systematic theology in 2019, writing on the doctrine of purgatory. While in Toronto he also served at St. Peter’s Parish and was one of the facilitators of its regular bereavement program. After working for a few months as a chaplain in the palliative care ward of a Toronto area hospital, Matthew was missioned as a spiritual director at the Loyola House retreat centre in Guelph, Ontario. While there, he worked to find ways to creatively bring the retreat experience online during the height of the COVID pandemic. After briefly returning to Toronto for further studies in preparation for ordination, Matthew was ordained a deacon in May of 2023 and was missioned back to Loyola High school, where he served on faculty and in campus ministry. After his priestly ordination, Matthew will remain in Montreal where he will continue his work at Loyola High.

Matt at Mount Bierstadt in Colorado on an outing during Jesuit History Month while he was in the novitiate.

What is one hobby you’ve cultivated as a Jesuit, and why is it important to you?
One hobby that I have cultivated during my years in formation is photography. I have always enjoyed going for long walks and would often take pictures of things that would catch my eye: buildings, monuments, open spaces, trees, whatever. However, it was during my regency years at the Loyola House retreat centre in Guelph, Ontario, that this casual activity became something more intentional.

My regency years coincided with the height of the COVID pandemic, and so I found myself with plenty of free time to walk the 700 or so acres that make up the retreat centre grounds. I would walk the same trails over and over again, so I got to see the various features and landmarks on the land at different times of day, in different weather and during the different seasons. And when something of those features caught my eye, I would take a picture of it. Over time, I came to realize the spiritual quality of what I was doing and discovered just how much photography had become a prayerful activity for me: It was an exercise in paying attention to where God may be in places beyond the obvious, in noticing the subtlety of God’s movements in solitude and amongst creation.

What’s one piece of Jesuit history that you find really inspiring?
One piece of Jesuit history that I find inspiring are those earliest voyages made by some of the first Jesuit missionaries. In some cases, they were the first Europeans to ever visit certain places and meet its peoples. What has always caught my imagination about this is how much of a step into the unknown these voyages must have been. Whenever we travel today — even to such extreme locations as the bottom of the ocean or into outer space — we at least have a superficial or general sense of where we are going, what the trip will entail, and what we might expect when we get there … so I can only imagine what these early Jesuits must have thought or felt when they consented to what was essentially a one-way trip into literally uncharted territory. The character of these men — their sense of faith and dedication to the mission — was extraordinary.

Matt at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal. This is a current F1 track, and Matt is big F1 fan.

What was one particularly meaningful experience you had during your formation, and why was it meaningful to you?
Some of the most meaningful experiences I have had during my years in formation occurred during my months working as a chaplain in the palliative care ward of a Toronto hospital. After many years in advanced studies, I felt a strong desire to engage in active pastoral ministry, and it was decided that I gain some experience by working at the hospital before I began my regency assignment as a spiritual director in one of our retreat centres.

It was during my time at the hospital that I had the privilege of accompanying many patients during their last days — and in some cases, final moments — on earth. There are so many individual moments that I can recall from my time in the ward, many uplifting and some tragic, that pushed me to be present in new ways to those whom I was accompanying. It was certainly a new experience for me to face on a daily basis the reality of death and dying, as well as to navigate the often complicated relationships that existed between those who would gather on these occasions. But there were moments of real grace as well, and I will never forget the trust and confidence in which I was often held by these patients and their family members during these critical moments in their lives.

Matt at Loyola House retreat centre in Guelph, Ontario, where he worked as a spiritual director during formation.

Who is one important mentor who has accompanied you on your journey? What made them a good mentor?
One of my most important mentors was the first Jesuit that I ever met. His name was David Creamer, SJ, and he taught me “Introduction to Catholic Studies” during my first year at university. I had entered with a scholarship in economics, with the expectation that that is where I would be concentrating my studies.

However, after quickly discovering that my passion for economics was not very strong, I discovered in Dave’s class a renewed passion for my faith: its history, thought and tradition. But beyond helping me discover my own intellectual interests, Dave helped me discover my Jesuit vocation as well. Once I got to know him better, I was able to more clearly see him live out his own Jesuit vocation, not just as a university professor, but also as a pastor and as a prison chaplain, among other things.

He became for me a model of availability and service, someone who was always ready to do hard work, no matter how humble, if he believed that it would contribute toward the helping of souls. He was a man of great integrity, internally wired to support the underdog and to pay attention to the needs of those most on the margins. We always remained in contact, and his support and advice for me as I applied to the Jesuits and entered the novitiate will always be appreciated. Sadly, Dave suddenly passed away a few years ago, but he remains constantly present in my thoughts and prayers.