Lisle, Illinois ~ After several years of intense study and training, Fr. Matt Litak, C10, English Language and Literature, fulfilled a lifelong calling earlier this year when he offered his first Mass at Christ the King Parish.
It was a special moment for the 28-year-old priest, who grew up barely more than a mile from his newly appointed post in Chicago’s Beverly neighborhood.
“It was a profound moment,” Fr. Matt said. “It was extremely exciting to have a place to call home that is so close to my hometown of Evergreen Park. That is a really rare thing.”
Though Fr. Matt remembers writing homilies in his head as early as age 4, he did not initially set out to become a priest. After graduating from Evergreen Park High School, he enrolled at Benedictine with the intent to become an English teacher.
“I had made a deal with myself that I would be a teacher, get married and have kids,” Fr. Matt said. “I was on the path to teach English and everything like that, but there was always this pull to the priesthood. It was always there in the back of my mind.”
At Benedictine, Fr. Matt worked as an office aid for the Department of History, Philosophy and Religious Studies and was a Phonathon student caller. In Campus Ministry, he involved himself in retreats and became a team leader, heading up Benedictine University’s 15th Koinonia Retreat. This past October, he joined other BenU alumni for a reunion and retreat they organized off campus.
Fr. Matt found a supportive sounding board in the Benedictine community of faculty, staff and students in which he could openly share and pray about his life goals and future plans. He bonded with Matt Jamesson, C09, Psychology, who is now a priest at St. Theresa Parish, and Nick Kostyk, C07, Philosophy, who was ordained a priest in May 2015 serving Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Glenview.
“We started talking about priesthood, adoration, going to daily Mass and really praying,” Fr. Matt said. “At that time, I met a lot of people who were interested in going into faith who realized it had meaning and value.”
He recalled the exact moment when he realized he wanted to take the next step.
“I was in the St. Benedict Chapel praying and I was going over a line in the Bible where Jesus instructs Simon Peter to tend to His sheep and feed His lambs,” Fr. Matt said. “There was this absolute moment of peace and I called the vocation number. The rest is history.”
At St. Procopius Abbey, he spoke to Abbot Hugh Anderson, O.S.B., who became his general spiritual director, and Br. Guy Jelinek, O.S.B., the vocation director for the Benedictines.
After graduation, Fr. Matt was accepted to University of Saint Mary of the Lake, Mundelein Seminary where he earned a master’s degree in Theology. During his studies he interned at a local parish as a catechist and ministered at Mt. Sinai Hospital, a group home for people with HIV/AIDS and a nursing home.
“Each one offered a different profound experience of ministry and God’s love and getting to be Christ’s hands in the world,” Fr. Matt said.
At Christ the King Parish, Fr. Matt ministers once a week at the nursing home, teaches a seventh-grade religion class and conducts Mass once a week at a local hospital and homebound ministry. He is also in charge of daily Mass, marriage and baptismal preparations, and coordinates two small faith groups.
He understands some of the challenges the Church faces today, such as declining participation.
When put into historical perspective, however, the Church has always endured, he said.
“Yes we are down, but we are not extinguished,” Fr. Matt said. “It has survived far more than what we are going through now.”
His age also gives people a sense the Church will continue, he said.
For students who are considering entering the priesthood, he recommends prayer and finding someone they can trust to discuss their intentions further.
“You have to be called by God, and the only way you know if you are called is by talking and conversing with God, and that means prayer,” Fr. Matt said. “If it’s a priest or friend, find someone you can talk to about what is going on, what you are thinking about and where your prayer is guiding you.”
Benedictine University is located in Lisle, Illinois, just 25 miles west of Chicago, and has branch campuses in Springfield, Illinois, and Mesa, Arizona. Founded as a Catholic university in 1887, Benedictine enrolls more than 5,000 students in 59 undergraduate and 23 graduate programs. Forbes magazine named Benedictine among "America's Top Colleges" for the seventh consecutive year in 2017. Accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (hlcommission.org). For more information, contact (630) 829-6300, firstname.lastname@example.org or visit ben.edu.