"Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these
brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me." Matthew 25:40
FATHER JOSEPH MATTERN
Fr. Joseph Mattern has led a life of deep spiritual devotion and selfless service, along with a commitment to the arts. Known affectionately as "Fr. Joe" or "Jose," he has been a scholar of scripture and theology committed to spiritual growth. As the Founder and President of the Casa Esther Catholic Worker House in Omro, WI, he has brought to life this true purpose.
Fr. Joe has long been deeply inspired by the teachings and life of Dorothy Day, the co-founder of the Catholic Worker movement. The aims of the Catholic Worker movement involves living out the selfless service to those in need, bringing Christ to the poor, connecting with the Earth and Nature, and advocating for a non-violent and peaceful world. Peter Maurin, the other co-founder of the movement was fond of saying; "we must create a society where it is easier for people to be good." This simple and down to Earth view has motivated Fr. Joe to work for that good.
Fr. Mattern was born as the 8th in a family of 13 children, proud of his Polish ancestry. He attended a Catholic grade school and then graduated from Menasha (public) High School. Inspired by a father who was an accomplished musician, all thirteen children played a musical instrument. The Mattern family had the reputation of being a musical family. He entered the seminary following high school with the dream of becoming a priest. He attended Saint Mary College in Michigan and graduated with honors. Because of his high academic standing, the Bishop of Green Bay chose him to represent the Diocese as a theology student at the prestigious North American College in the Vatican, where he was ordained after four years of preparation. He served parishes in Kaukauna, Marinette, Manitowoc and retired from his tenure as pastor after thirty years in Omro.
While in Marinette, his position was teaching music at Marinette Catholic Central High School. His musical career featured 26 years as a flutist with the Green Bay Symphony Orchestra. He continues to be a saxophonist with an 18-piece jazz band in the Fox River Valley.
Fr. Mattern is known as a progressive in his approach to theology, scripture, and ministry. This is due in part to his persistent involvement with progressive movements such as the Call To Action, Pax Christi, the liturgical movement and the association of United States Catholic Priests (AUSCP) which advocates for church reform as called for by the Second Vatican Council.
Upon reaching retirement from his duties as a pastor, Fr. Joe, led by the grace of the Holy Spirit, made the bold move to found a Catholic Worker House. By an uncanny set of circumstances which can only be considered as God's providence, things came together to make that prospect a reality. It is important to point out that relying on God's providence characterized Dorothy Day's spirituality. What made Fr. Joe’s decision so bold was that the Omro site is the only Catholic Worker House in the Green Bay Diocese. With this ministry, he decided that this would be the best way he could respond to the needs of the growing Hispanic community. He is fluent in Spanish, presiding at Mass and preaching in that idiom. Part of his story is that he serves as a volunteer chaplain, presiding at Masses in Spanish at state prisons.
The Omro Catholic Worker has had success because of the generosity of the area community and partnership with organizations such as Pax Christi, Just Faith, the Place 2-B and the Green Bay Diocesan Office of Living Justice. There is also involvement with various faith systems such as the Oshkosh inter-faith ecumenical group.
Just over a decade ago, Fr. Mattern was on board when Fox Valley faith leaders first made the move to establish the ESTHER affiliate in the Fox River Valley. ESTHER is linked with the nation-wide network called GAMALIEL, which is congregation-based and is committed to bringing about systemic justice through community organizing. Fr. Joe did intensive training in community organizing techniques, and then served two terms as the President of the ESTHER affiliate. He continues to support ESTHER even though his Catholic Worker House is not an official member, since the Bishop of Green Bay had forbidden Catholic parishes and groups to be members.
Pope Francis has the overwhelming support of Fr. Joe as he is proving to be a champion in advancing the spirit of reform as called for in the Second Vatican Council. The Pope's ground-breaking encyclical letter, Laudato Si, is the first papal document to address environmental issues. Its sub-title is “Caring for Our Common Home”. Maintaining vegetable gardens and caring for the Earth is central to the Catholic Worker mission, and it is spelled out in one of Peter Maurin's famous three pillars of the Catholic Worker movement - that is, having farming communes and respecting Mother Earth. This is central to Fr. Mattern's view of the big picture with respect to evolution and the new cosmology.
Along with his involvement with the Catholic Worker mission, Fr.Joe has never lost his passion for music and sports. In some circles, he is identified as a musician-athlete who became a priest. From his background as a three-sport star in high school athletics, he has continued to be involved in competitive sports. Through the years, he competed in a variety of state-sponsored tennis tournaments and also served as a high school tennis coach for boys and girls for eighteen years. He continues to be an avid golfer to this date. In music, he performs regularly with two eighteen-piece big bands, and does gigs at local clubs playing tenor and alto sax as well as clarinet and flute.
Fr. Joe Mattern has had quite a career, and his heart is filled with gratitude for the host of teachers, friends, and colleagues who have journeyed with him on the way.