Father George Mathis
CINCINNATI (August 29, 2012)—Father George Mathis, 84, a native of Euclid, Ohio, and a Glenmary Home Missioner for 61 years, died peacefully Aug. 26 in Kingsport, Tenn. Father Mathis was ordained in 1955. He served in a wide range of roles as a Glenmarian—including pastor of Georgia, Tennessee and Kentucky missions; council member; department director; and liturgical environment artist, designer and consultant.
"Father Mathis was a deeply spiritual, faithful and artistically talented man who never hesitated to share his gifts with others," said Father Chet Artysiewicz, Glenmary's president. "He was a brother to us all and will be sorely missed."
He grew up during the Depression in a financially struggling family, the third of four brothers. "My parish church provided something very important, good and beautiful in my life," he said in a 1977 interview. He said he always had an appreciation for and desire to bring out the inherent beauty in people and things—and discovered he had innate talents in these areas.
"Ministry and priesthood are easy and natural ways to respond to the fractures and brokenness in people," Father Mathis reflected in that interview. "Through ministry I can help others discover or uncover their own forgotten or doubted beauty and value."
Following his ordination, he served as an associate pastor at missions in Franklin and Guthrie, Ky., and Swainsboro, Ga., before moving on to his first pastorate in Claxton, Ga., where he ministered from 1960 to 1965.
Father Mathis served in leadership roles in Glenmary for the next 13 years—as a council member, promotion and mission office director, and formation director—before pastoring missions in Pulaski and Fayetteville, Tenn. (1979-83). Following these assignments, he was appointed Glenmary's personnel director (1983-87) before returning to mission areas to pastor two more Kentucky missions—Vanceburg (1987-88) and Grayson (1988-93).
Even as a young associate pastor and pastor, Father Mathis also used his art and design skills to enhance the liturgical settings where his Catholic communities worshiped, as well as advising other missions on design. His talent enabled him to carry out these efforts with no formal training.
However, during a one-year period of renewal from 1978 to 1979, he took courses and worked in various art media, developing and refining skills that would eventually change the course of his ministry. To cap off the year, he learned stained-glass art and design from a master craftsman in Assisi, Italy—and found out he loved it.
Providentially, as pastor of the Fayetteville, Tenn., mission (1979-83), he was able to put his skills to work in helping design a new church building. He also helped create 10 stained-glass windows and introduced a collaborative process he later used at many other times and places.
First he created the designs and then trained mission volunteers to cut glass and assemble the windows. This method, he said, allowed the financially strapped congregation "to bring color, beauty and inspiration into their worship space" for about 10 percent of what a professional studio would have charged. Most important, he realized "the windows were only a byproduct. What we were building was community between mission members."
In 1993, Father Mathis requested and received Glenmary senior-member status at age 65 so he could have more time for his art and design work. "God gave me these talents, too," he said, "and I wanted more time to use and share them." As a senior member, he also served as a sacramental minister for Glenmary and diocesan congregations near his Kingsport home.
Before his death, Father Mathis completed 15-20 stained-glass projects—at Glenmary missions, other Catholic churches, a Christian church, and more. He employed the group method on the majority of jobs, an approach that, to his knowledge, no one else was using. In addition, he served as a liturgical design consultant for a number of Glenmary missions and other rural parishes with very limited budgets.
"I feel very blessed," Father Mathis said in 2010, "that with the support of the Glenmary community, I've been able to do pastoral ministry and be a spiritual leader, as well as having the opportunity to use some of my other talents to serve God and other people."
Father Mathis is survived by nephews, nieces, fellow Glenmary missioners and friends.
Memorials may be made to Glenmary Home Missioners, PO Box 465618, Cincinnati, OH, 45246.