Father Matthew Morelli
Hometown: Hershey, Pa.
Education: Hershey public schools, St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia, Pontifical North American College in Rome, and Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md.
Assignment: Parochial vicar at St. Joseph Parish in Hanover and chaplain at Delone Catholic High School in McSherrystown
Tell me a little bit about your childhood.
I grew up in Hershey, St. Joan of Arc was my home parish. We were a typical Catholic family, Mass on Sunday. I went to parish youth group, and that was a real tremendous blessing to grow in faith with other kids my age. It got me connected in all sorts of retreats, like Steubenville and Fan the Fire, which is in York. I did all of those retreats, and that really helped me to grow in my faith. I was encouraged by my family to keep doing that.
When you did first consider the call to priesthood?
For discernment of vocation, it was a gradual question of whether I’d go into the priesthood, but it really didn’t hit too hard until the latter end of high school, when everybody is saying, “You have to decide exactly what to do with your life right now.” I did really ask God. I went to prayer after school. A lot times, I would stop at St. Joan of Arc and pray in front of the Tabernacle and just ask God what he wanted from me. I never had a big revelation or anything like that. God only gives you what you need in talking to him in prayer.
Discernment is a very free process. God says, “Here’s my plan. What do you think? Do you want to go on this adventure? Do you want to be as happy as I’ve called you to be?” He lets you make the decision.
There was a bit of consternation. I had already been accepted to Penn State for architectural engineering. But I decided, “I know enough in prayer that I know I should enter the seminary.” To me, it was sort of what I had to do. I didn’t think about what seminary would be like. I just thought, “This is what God wants me to do.”
Going to the Quo Vadis Days retreats gave me a lot to pray with. You kind of live a basic schedule of the seminary when you go to Quo Vadis. You get to know the seminarians. That really helped my prayer and discernment, and it helped my spirituality in general, to grow as a man of Christ.
One of the things that struck me about Quo Vadis was just getting to interact with priests and seminarians. I went home and told my mom, “They’re real people! They’re normal! Yes, I knew that, but really, they’re normal!”
What was it like to study in Rome? How did it come about?
The Diocesan Vocations Director visits the seminary every year and sits down with the guys to find out about their experience. He’s already talked with professors and formators, and they spend a lot of time finding out where you are, helping you grow and improve. They know your skills and what you may be ready for – or not. I met with Father [Raymond] LaVoie, the Vocations Director at the time, and Rome came up as a possibility.
I had been at St. Charles for four years, and I felt it would be nice to go somewhere else, to try to challenge myself or find out about different ways I could grow. It would have been easy to stay at St. Charles. There was a lot to look forward to, great professors. In the end, Father LaVoie called and said that Bishop would like me to go to Rome to study.
There are a lot of advantages to the Diocese to have a guy come back from Rome with a degree and the possibility of further studies. We always need guys that are capable of bringing good resources back to the Diocese.
The biggest difference of studying in Rome is functional. Most of our seminaries here have small classes. In Rome, we studied with laity as well, with 250 people in one classroom. You can get a lot about theology and the Church straight from the horse’s mouth. Living day-to-day is different, too. At St. Charles and the Mount, you’d wake up and go to Mass, and class was just a floor below. In Rome, you had to walk half an hour or bike ten minutes. Distance from home can also be difficult for guys away from their typical support systems. But the city itself, and the faith of the people around it, is beautiful.
What has been your experience as a high school chaplain?
The best I can do is just interact, just be present. I have time for hearing Confessions at Delone. I don’t just go in and say Mass and that’s it. I’m available for teachers as well. I say Masses for some of the sports teams, or open events with prayer and blessings. I’m present for retreats.
I try to be as visible to the students as possible. The person-to-person interaction is important. I get to see a lot of what’s going on in kids’ lives, and tell them what they really need to hear. Too much is on the shoulders of so many of them, and to have an opportunity to lift some of that weight is a real blessing. There are so many times when I wish I had the answer for them, I wish I could snap my fingers and make their issue to away, but it’s about accompaniment and carrying a cross with someone.
What are some of your interests and hobbies?
I’m a hunter. I enjoy hunting and fly fishing. We have a couple of good lakes around here, so I got a cheap kayak, and even I don’t catch anything, it’s nice to just get out. It’s good for anyone to have hobbies, to have an opportunity to recharge. I love nature. Even on our property, we have some woods and a picnic grove to enjoy.
What do you enjoy most about being a priest?
There is a lot of joy to be had. People invite you into their lives. You’re immediately as close to a family as you can be, whether it’s a death or celebrating a graduation or baptism. You’re with them in the hospital as they’re health is going downhill, or as they’re going home and celebrating their healing. People need the priesthood because they need Jesus. People call me Father, and they do so because of my celibacy. Without me having my own family, everyone is my family. When I’m with someone, I’m able to say that no one else is more important to me than this person in front of me. To share in all the moments of people’s lives is huge. It’s always about others. Those are the sort of things that make me happiest as a priest.