Summary of today’s show: Father Matt Westcott is a former Marine who loves being a diocesan priest, and yet he serves at perhaps the world’s most prestigious university, Harvard, as chaplain to its Catholic undergraduates. Scot Landry and Fr. Matt Williams welcome Fr. Westcott to hear about his path to the priesthood and the four years he served in parishes before becoming Harvard’s chaplain. They also discuss the unique joys and challenges of serving a student body that is highly accomplished and motivated and just doesn’t know when to slow down.
Listen to the show:
Today’s host(s): Scot Landry and Fr. Matt Williams
Today’s guest(s): Father Matt Westcott
Links from today’s show:
Today’s topics: Priest Profile: Father Matt Westcott
1st segment: Scot Landry welcomed everyone to the show and mentioned his kids had their first day of school. He then noted that since Fr. Matt Williams was last on the show over a month ago he was in the Dominican Republic with a pilgrimage of six young people for a mission experience as part of their leadership curriculum, which follows after Witness to Truth and Witness to Love retreat courses. They partner with Sr. Lisa Valentini, who’s been on the show several times. He thinks these young people will never look at the world the same way again. Fr. Matt then related a story of one of these life changing encounters with a family there.
Scot said Boston is known as a university town and the Archdiocese has a special responsibility to help form in the faith young people who come here from across the globe. The undergraduate chaplain at the Harvard Catholic Student Association and parochial vicar at St. Paul Parish in Cambridge.
He was ordained in 2007. He’s originally from St. Clement in Somerville, which he says is now technically in Medford. HE sometimes jokes that growing up it felt like a 1950s parish with a bunch of priests in the rectory, full schools and pews, and lots of activities. Everything in life was parish-based. Fr. Westcott also worked in the rectory as a youth, answering the door and phones. He got to see the day to day life of the priest, which later influenced his decision to enter the seminary.
After St. Clement’s high school, he entered Norwich University in Vermont in 1993. It is a military college and he intended to make a career in the military and served in the US Marine Corps. He went on to law school later and graduated in 2000. He entered seminary in Fall 2001 in order to give God one year to show him whether he was being called to the priesthood. What he was looking for whether Jesus was enough for him in whatever way he is called.
He said the decision to enter the seminary is the decision to discern along with the Church whether the man is called. The discernment is by both the man and the community of the Church.
Scot said the month he entered the seminary was the attacks of 9/11 and just four months after entering the clergy abuse scandal broke. He said it was actually a good time to be in the seminary because they weren’t in the parishes like the priests were and weren’t in the battle. For most of the men it served as galvanizing force for them to take to heart the call to holiness.
For Fr. Westcott, he was very excited about being a Boston diocesan priest. It is where the grace of God intersects with the every day existence. The parish priest, among all the roles in the Church, walks with people in the joys and tragedies and routine of life.
After ordination, Fr. Westcott spent his first three years at St. Mary in Scituate. He still feels close to the people in that town. The community was based seriously on the Gospel and were serious about their town. He then went to St. Mary in Foxboro for only one year. Then he was asked to become undergraduate chaplain for Harvard.
Fr. Westcott had anticipated being asked to be pastor, and he hadn’t considered specialized ministry. One of the threads of his priesthood was his friendship with Fr. Bill Murphy and he was his predecessor at Harvard, so they talked about it. It is very different from parish work. The work is much less sacramental–fewer baptisms, funerals, and weddings– and the pace is different.
Scot asked what the typical day is like for the chaplain. Fr. Westcott said the typical parish priest is more free to plan disown day, until there’s an emergency call. Working with undergrads, he finds himself on their schedule. The opportunity to meet them when and where they’re free is crucial because they’re not working 9–5 lives. He might says the 8am Mass at St. Paul’s and then be out of the residence until 11pm.
The goal is authenticity, to be visible and approachable. One way is to wear his collar and walk through Harvard Yard. They then commented on Fr. Westcott’s accent saying Harvard Yard.
Fr. Williams asked Fr. Westcott his greatest challenges in fulfilling his role as priest-chaplain. Fr. Westcott said Harvard is unique. All the students are smart, but the students are also extraordinarily driven. They take tasks on themselves and want pressure. Motivating a Harvard student isn’t a problem, but getting them to slow down and cultivate silence is. They need to give themselves time to explore how the Holy Spirit is working in their lives. Even when they’re doing good things, it can stifle one’s spirit because they don’t have time or energy to dedicate to prayer. As a practical matter, he preaches about and talks about it in personal conversation.
Scot asked about fielding the very tough questions from very smart and motivated students. Fr. Westcott said some of the conversations he has are almost like a seminar. Once they see the willingness to learn more, the students are capable.
2nd segment: This week’s benefactor card raffle winner is Joseph Jacob from Newton Center, MA
He wins a CD from the Envoy Institute: “the Roots of Modern Atheism” by Dr. Ed Fesem and the booklet “Catholics in the Public Square” by Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix.
If you would like to be eligible to win in an upcoming week, please visit WQOM.org. For a one-time $30 donation, you’ll receive the Station of the Cross benefactor card and key tag, making you eligible for WQOM’s weekly raffle of books, DVDs, CDs and religious items. We’ll be announcing the winner each Wednesday during “The Good Catholic Life” program.
3rd segment: Fr. Westcott talked about the four missionaries from Fellowship of Catholic University Student who help him to reach the students where they are, in places that Fr. Westcott generally isn’t available and they also meet them in in all phases of life, including social. FOCUS works on many college campuses across the country and they work closely with Fr. Westcott to ensure they are meeting the unique needs of Harvard. The vision and methodology are well in place as they begin the new academic year.
Fr. Westcott said there is no shortage of information and material from FOCUS to help him work together with them. one of the FOCUS missionaries is the leader and he helps to ensure they’re on the same page, coordinating calendars, etc. The guidance generally comes from the Catholic Center out to the FOCUS team. He’s impressed by their dedication to daily Mass and a duly Holy Hour. FOCUS does a good job of taking care of their own missionaries and a regional coordinator also coordinates with Fr. Westcott and the pastor at St. Paul’s.
Scot said he guessed about 400–500 freshmen at Harvard are Catholic. Fr. Westcott said there’s no shortage of opportunities for Harvard students to spend their time doing many things, but they encourage them to get involved in mall faith-sharing groups to give them a personal investment in the life of the Catholic Center and to create personal relationships. Scot noted that they now have adoration in the chapel. Fr. Westcott said they are clear that the Eucharist is the center of Catholic life and their is great desire among the students for expressions of devotion that are Eucharist centered.
Scot notes that St. Paul’s is a parish that appreciates liturgy done well. There will be a special kickoff Mass on September 16, 11am, celebrated by Bishop Jim Connolly of Denver, for the new academic school year. He’ll then give a lecture after. Fr. Westcott said the Mass of the Holy Spirit derives from the great golden age of the universities of Europe, which began the academic year invoking the Holy Spirit in the pursuit of truth.
Bishop Connolly has been invited as a bridge between FOCUS and the diocesan chaplaincy. He’s a friend of FOCUS and St. Paul’s pastor, Fr. Michael Drea. He will address the pursuit of academic truth and the life of the Church.
Fr. Westcott said he hasn’t gone a day without being tremendously impressed by several students, not just by their resumes, but by their hearts and desire to live lives as holy men and women with authenticity in the world and for God.
Scot said one of the most moving moments in his time serving the Archdiocese was the funeral Mass for one of Fr. Westcott’s classmates, Fr. Dan Kennedy, who died just 8 months after being ordained. He recalls all the priests singing at the end of Mass, Cardinal Seán’s palpable emotion at Fr. Dan’s passing, and Fr. Dan’s father’s talk at the end of Mass which was perhaps the best vocation talk he’s ever heard. He asked Fr. Westcott how this event has affected him.
Fr. Westcott said they became friends the first year in the seminary. Neither remembers meeting, but they always seemed to have been friends. Fr. Dan remains close to him and there isn’t a day that goes by that he doesn’t think of something he’d like to talk to Dan about. He also remains close to Fr. Dan’s family. Fr. Westcott said Fr. Dan died one year to the day from when they were ordained deacons.
Fr. Westcott says he finds himself praying for the intercession of Fr. Dan for vocations to the priesthood, but also for many of the young couples Fr. Westcott encounters. He was always very gregarious and joyful in his priesthood and touched many, many people in his brief time. Fr. Westcott clarifies that he’s not claiming Fr. Dan is a saint, but he’s relying on the graces and devotions we make for the deceased and has a private conviction that Fr. Dan is in heaven. Scot asked for prayers for Fr. Dan and for people to pray to him.
Scot also noted that today is also the 15th anniversary of the death of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta.