By Dominique Johnson
The North Star Catholic
Born and raised in Sitka, Deacon Ron Mathews received the sacraments at St. Gregory Nazianzen Parish, where he now serves. However, his journey to the diaconate was not straightforward. “I really thought that I was more being allowed, by God, to be a deacon. I didn’t really think I’d make the cut,” Deacon Ron shared.
Mathews had fallen away from the Church and faith while he was a teenager. “As a kid growing up, I was wild and had no supervision,” he said. In his 20s, Mathews had a conversion experience while working at the pulp mill in Sitka, which led him to the Protestant church. Mathews spent the next 25 years wandering from Protestant church to Protestant church before returning to the Catholic faith.
God tried to bring him back to the Church three different times. Mathews said, “But I fought. I looked at Christianity back then as the mystical church, not really a building or an establishment.” As he kept reading books about Christianity, the ones that always stuck out to Deacon Ron were written by Catholics.
In 2003, following his mother’s death, Mathews attended her funeral Mass at St. Gregory’s in Sitka. It was the first time he attended Mass since he was a kid, and “I haven’t missed a Mass since then,” he said.
Deacon Ron and his wife Kathy returned to their home in Juneau after the funeral and started attending daily Mass at St. Paul’s. He attended Mass secretly because Kathy was not Catholic, and he did not want to pressure her to convert. Deacon Ron said a turning point came when he began seeing the pastor from his Protestant church, also attending Mass. A few weeks later, Kathy joined Ron at Mass and, on the way home, said about the Church, “this is where I belong.” Mathews said, “This was God, bringing us to the Catholic Church.”
About four years later, at the invitation of a parishioner at St. Gregory’s, Deacon Ron began the discernment process for the diaconate. “I always wanted to serve,” he said. “I always felt I was meant to be just a servant since I don’t really have any other talent.” So, he felt like the role of deacon would suit his willingness to serve.
His formation process was not straightforward. During his first year of the diaconate process, Bishop Michael Warfel was appointed bishop of Great Falls-Billings, Montana, and the diaconate program was suspended. This did not deter his class. They still met once a week and continued their studies. Two years after Bishop Edward Burns was named the bishop of Juneau, the four-year formation program started again.
Eight months before his ordination was scheduled, Deacon Ron had to leave Sitka for Arkansas to care for his father. He had conversations with the bishop of Little Rock and Bishop Burns in Juneau to receive permission to be ordained in Juneau and serve his first four years as a deacon in Fort Smith, Arkansas.
In September 2014, Mathews was ordained a deacon by Bishop Burns and began his ministry in Arkansas. He shared that the experience serving in Arkansas helped prepare him to serve in Sitka. Mathews recalled giving his first homily to a congregation of 300 people when a typical service in Sitka would have 100 people. He said preaching to the larger congregation helped him become a better public speaker. He added, “There is something to be said about the grace of ordination because I couldn’t do it on my own. It’s the grace of the Holy Spirit.”
Deacon Ron returned to Sitka in the fall of 2017 and serves at Mass at St. Gregory’s, as well as assisting with office support. Along with his wife Kathy, he serves at the soup kitchen every Saturday and helps with religious education.
Through the winding journey back to the Catholic faith and persevering through the roadblocks on his road to the diaconate, Deacon Ron Mathews lives the call of service of his vocation in the community of Sitka.