Brian Matz explores Catholic thought, enriches Catholic identity at Fontbonne

Lisa Johnston |

Brian Matz has been on the job at Fontbonne University since August, quietly going about his business as an associate professor in the religious studies department and as the Carondelet Chair of Catholic Thought, an endowed chair of Fontbonne's founders and sponsors — the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet.

Mainly, that has involved teaching. Students have been sponging his vast knowledge about the history of the Roman Catholic Church and its significant impact on Western culture.

But he's about to step out of the classroom and into the spotlight. Matz will present his first CSJ Annual Lecture March 31 at Fontbonne. The topic: Catholic thought in education since the Middle Ages.

Matz expects an intimate gathering as he starts earning his stripes as presenter and lecturer.

"This being my first one, it might be a small group of people, but that's OK," he said, with a smile. "At this point, I'm new and I'll have to earn my credentials ... one lecture at time."

His credentials as a speaker, perhaps, but not his credentials as a scholar of Roman Catholic history. He comes to Fontbonne with two doctorates and a doctor of sacred theology on top of master's and bachelor degrees. He's the fourth person to hold the chair, which the sisters inaugurated in 2006.

"This position fits very well with my interests in exploring the Catholic intellectual world and the history of Catholic thought and how that has so deeply embedded itself within Western culture," he said. "In the U.S., we're inheritors of that. ... Most people don't understand the ways in which the Catholic Church was involved with (forming) that.

"I've enjoyed studying it and here I get a chance to teach it every semester."

Matz also taught other courses at his previous outpost — Carroll College in Helena, Mont. — and describes getting to focus on Catholic intellectual history at Fontbonne as "a real joy, a real delight."

Matz converted to Catholicism in 2009, but had been dancing around Catholicism — and the St. Louis area — for almost 20 years. Raised in the Protestant tradition, he's the oldest of the late Theresa and Louis Matz's four children. Louis Matz, an Air Force pilot, was stationed at Scott Air Force Base in the late 1980s. After two years of high school in O'Fallon, Ill., Brian Matz moved to the family's next outpost but returned to St. Louis after high school graduation, attending Washington University.

There, he earned an accounting degree and also attended Masses at the Catholic Student Center, starting the dance with Catholicism. After two years as an accountant in Clayton, he left the work force.

"In the evenings, I found myself not wanting to read business news; it was more enjoyable to read books about theology and biblical studies, " he said. "At some point, I just thought, 'I need to either pursue education or be content with this personal study.'"

Opting for education, he left St. Louis again and earned a master's in historical theology at Dallas (Texas) Theological Seminary. He again returned to St. Louis and earned a doctorate in early Christian studies at St. Louis University, then added both a doctorate and a doctor of sacred theology in social ethics at Belgium's Katholieke Universiteit Leuven — i.e. Catholic University of Leuven, the oldest Catholic university in the world. Then, he took his first tenure-track job in Helena, which had no Anglican churches — he had been confirmed as an Anglican — so he attended Catholic Masses.

Converting "became natural and obvious," he said, adding that there was a "pragmatic" reason as well. "The Catholic Church had been providing for my family for many years," starting with SLU, then the Catholic university in Belgium and Carroll College, a diocesan college founded by the Diocese of Helena. Matz and wife Heidi have four children, two boys and two girls, ranging from 5 to 11.

"I've never drawn a paycheck in academia from anything other than a Catholic institution," he said, proudly. "The Catholic Church has been good to my family. It was just a natural step."

And so is his step from the classroom. 

“Catholic thought in education since the Middle Ages”

Who: Brian Matz, Carondelet Chair of Catholic Thought at Fontbonne University

When: 4 to 5 p.m. Thursday, March 31

Where: Lewis Room at the Jack C. Taylor Library at Fontbonne

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