‘Maybe this is what God wants me to do’
Father Matthew Gworek became the newest presiding Catholic chaplain at Quinnipiac at the young age of 30
Gworek grew up just down the road from Quinnipiac in Southington. His family was closely knit, consisting of his mother, father, older sister and younger brother. Gworek’s relatives also lived in the area, providing a close sense of community. To this day, the majority of his family remains in the area.
“It was a great experience getting to be there with a lot of wonderful people,” Gworek said. “I made a lot of friends in my time there and it was a really nice childhood.”
Growing up, Gworek attended church services regularly at the Immaculate Conception Church with his family. Along with his siblings, he attended religious education classes as well.
“As I grew older, for lots of reasons, my whole family got more and more involved in church and being involved in the programs that were happening,” Gworek said. “My parents became religion teachers there for the kids as well as the adults. As we all grew up a bit, it became a bigger and bigger part of our lives.”
While Gworek’s family grew at the church, he found his interest in religion through a youth group organization.
“It was a nice experience of getting to be with other teenagers and to get to talk about my faith, learn about my faith or even to just have fun with it,” Gworek said. “Getting to see that and experience that and realize that church isn’t this thing that I have to go to once a week for an hour and sit there and be interested or be bored or whatever; it’s this thing that I can live out.”
As Gworek’s interest in the church grew, he simultaneously developed a passion for music.
“I really fell in love with music,” Gworek said. “It became a big hobby and then out of that came a big passion.”
Ultimately, it became music that drove Gworek to attend the University of Connecticut (UConn) as a music education major. He played a variety of instruments including the saxophone, but eventually settled on the euphonium in college.
“At that point the plan was to be a music teacher and to specifically be an elementary school music teacher,” Gworek said. “I loved the music side of it but I’ve always loved teaching and especially teaching little kids.”
Attending UConn provided Gworek with the opportunity to develop his perspective and understanding of the world.
“College was this really wonderful time in my life,” Gworek said. “Getting to be there on campus surrounded by a big diversity of people…who had some similarities but lots of differences. You get to meet a lot of different people that you maybe wouldn’t get to meet growing up in whatever little town you grew up in.”
While Gworek was enjoying the diversity and abundance of extracurricular activities, he found it important to find his niche.
“The two big things that I centered myself on were the music things; the music majors I was with, the people I was in bands with, that was one piece,” Gworek said. “The other piece was the church that was on campus. I had grown up going to church and there was a church on campus so I figured I was supposed to keep going.”
To continue to cultivate his passion for music, Gworek joined a band fraternity called Kappa Kappa Psi, the National Fraternity for Honorary Band Members.
“It was a really wonderful organization that I got to be a part of there,” Gworek said. “It is a service fraternity that really focused on music and band and making sure that in a lot of ways we were the leaders of those ensembles on campus…but also went out into the community to serve different people and different groups.”
As Gworek’s college experience progressed, he started to realize that he could see himself as a priest.
“For a few years while I was at UConn, I had been in involved in the church that was on campus and had gotten to know a lot of people and was really enjoying my experience,” Gworek said.
The connections he made with these people were driving forces in his consideration of the priesthood for himself.
“As I got to know the priests there on campus and got to spend time with them, I really started to feel that they were strong mentors for me, especially just in the way they worked and the way they approached people and they seemed like they really loved their life and their job and what they were doing,” he said.
While Gworek continued with his studies, the idea of joining the priesthood grew stronger.
“The more I got to spend time with them and do the things that they were doing, slowly but surely the more I came to this notion of, ‘You know what, that doesn’t look so terrible,’” Gworek said. “From there it grew to, ‘You know that looks like a life that somebody might like,’ all the way up to, ‘Maybe that’s something I could do, maybe that’s something I want to do,’ and then finally, ‘Maybe this is what God wants me to do.’”
During his last year at UConn, Gworek made the decision that becoming a priest was something that he really wanted to look into despite having his mind previously set on music education.
“I met with Father Michael Dolan, the vocation director, and he came up to UConn and we had a great conversation and he was really supportive of me thinking through this and trying to figure it all out,” Gworek said. “From there I was really affirmed in this idea of possibly studying to be a priest.”
After graduating in May of 2010, Gworek began his studies at the seminary program at the Catholic University of America in Washington D.C the following fall. For six years he studied sociology, philosophy and church history.
Leaving behind the idea of a music career wasn’t easy for Gworek, but he had faith that he would never lose that passion.
“Music wasn’t something that I felt like I wanted to or maybe even could just throw by the wayside or completely get rid of for the rest of forever,” Gworek said. “Thankfully music is a really big part of church and the life of someone who believes in God.”
Gworek was ordained in May 2016 and began working at Quinnipiac at the start of the fall 2017 semester. Working here has given Gworek the chance to spread faith to young people.
“It’s a great opportunity for me because unfortunately for lots of different reasons you look around in any given church…and a lot of times you don’t see a ton of young people and it would be great to have more want to be a part of the community,” Gworek said. “To be able to come here on campus and one, get to do some of that stuff and be involved in people’s lives and celebrate mass here but also do some wonderful and meaningful events, thats great.”
Not only does Gworek serve as a priest here, but he also works down the street at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, located on Whitney Avenue. Gworek works alongside Father Michael Dolan, who has been a mentor and teacher to Gworek.
“(Gworek) has a wonderful sense of humor, is always well prepared and solicitous to newcomers,” Dolan said. “He is a pleasure to be with and has a great interest in pop culture that never fails to amaze people. You would think a priest would be more insulated, but he is up to date on the latest movies, trends and technology. Fr. Matt is not just a good Christian, he is a good person for today’s society.”
Gworek’s young age allows him to form a connection with students that others may not be able to.
“I admire Fr. Matt’s energy and positivity, as well as his honesty, which is what I strive to have in my faith life as well,” sophomore occupational therapy major Grace Senra said. “The joy that he brings to our faith community is vital, and it is what we need to see in the broader Catholic community. I love that he always puts a positive spin on things and is willing to take on new tasks and it makes it easy and fun to work with him and be advised by him.”
The lifestyle that Gworek has chosen is one that he feels is best for him and is one that he hopes he can share with others.
“I really love what I do,” Gworek said. “I really love the life that I believe God has called me to and he’s letting me live. I really love being a priest and it’s a wonderful life and it’s a wonderful chance to get to serve God.”
Gworek is available as a resource on campus for all students, whether they want to practice the sacrament of confession or just go for a walk. Gworek also leads mass services which are held on Wednesday nights at 7:30 p.m.