Former Lutheran finds answer to life’s ‘So what?’ in Catholicism

| May 30, 2017 | 2 Comments

Father Matthew Quail at his ordination Mass at the Cathedral of St. Paul in St. Paul May 27. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

It took a lot of nagging questions about life to steer Father Matthew Quail, 30, to the Catholic Church.

He grew up Lutheran in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, not involved in church life, but watching its televised service on Sundays. Then, a car accident left his mother, Janette, in a coma for two weeks followed by extensive rehabilitation, so she could relearn how to walk and talk. It was an adjustment for the family, Father Quail said. His father, Donald, took the caretaker role. Meanwhile, his older brother graduated from high school as Father Quail was entering middle school.

“I started praying every day in fifth grade, because usually the only one who was around was God,” Father Quail said.

He started reading the Bible, but his faith life turned stagnant after he was confirmed as a ninth-grader. However, as a college freshman at South Dakota State University in Brookings, he felt he needed Christian morality in his new environment.

“It came to the point where I needed a foundation, I needed some answer,” he said.

He was a sophomore when he asked a “giddy freshman girl” why she was so happy; she told him she loved Jesus.

“I said, ‘Well, so do I, but I’m not all showy about it,’” Father Quail recalled. “And she asked me, ‘Why not?’”

His classmate invited him to Navigators, a Christian campus ministry group. He went to its events and attended different Lutheran parishes hoping to find the right fit, but he discovered they didn’t share a common practice. He remembered attending Catholic weddings and funerals, and asked a Catholic friend to take him to Mass. After receiving a blessing during Communion, he said he felt a “huge wave of peace.”

“So, it was like the one thing that gave me joy,” he said. “It’s like the secret that everyone’s looking for — the ‘So what?’ in life.”

He wanted to learn more about the Catholic faith, but his friends couldn’t answer his questions, so he called SDSU’s Newman Center. By the end of his sophomore year, he decided to begin the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. He joined the Church the following year in 2007.

But even with a newfound faith life, his future remained unclear. Although he’d be graduating with a business degree, he didn’t know what to do with it; what he did know was that he wanted to talk about Jesus and his Church. The Newman Center’s priest told him there’s a job where he could do just that — the priesthood. However, Father Quail thought it was too much, too soon. But in 2008, he visited the St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity in St. Paul. He didn’t want to admit it at first, but he loved the experience.

“I just saw really cool men who were excited about their faith [and] intelligent, and I thought, ‘This is an amazing community.’”

After graduating from SDSU in the spring of 2009, he entered the seminary that fall.

“God kept at me in prayer,” he said.

He quickly acclimated to the Twin Cities and struggled with the idea of serving as a priest in the Diocese of Sioux Falls, so he left the seminary, returning to work in Sioux Falls and then moving back to the Twin Cities to work for Wells Fargo mortgage. He attended Mass and taught catechism classes at Nativity of Our Lord in St. Paul.

“My Tuesday night was the highlight of my week because I got to plan for my Wednesday class,” he said.

But something was still missing.

In December 2012, when Father Quail told his father he was miserable, his father said he needs to return to the seminary.

“I said, ‘What do you know? You’re not even Catholic.’ And he said, ‘Well, Matt, that’s the only time in your life you were really happy,’” Father Quail recalled, adding that his father converted to Catholicism in 2015. “So, of course, being a good stubborn mule that I am, I didn’t do anything.”

Admittedly hemming and hawing over the priesthood, Father Quail reached the tipping point in 2013.

“I remember I was at my desk at work, doing all this stuff with mortgage, and I thought, ‘There’s gotta be more.’” Then he pondered: If he had only one week to live, he’d evangelize door-to-door. He decided to solidify his calling by meeting with Father Troy Przybilla, who served as the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis’ vocations director, to re-enter the seminary.

“There were a lot of twists and turns, but ultimately, it came down to a lot of trust, and trust in God’s plan,” Father Quail said.

Through his journey, learning to “be himself” has been the most important lesson from classmates and clergy. It’s also been a challenge. His fellow seminarians have shown him that a priestly vocation really is a calling because each man is different and brings a variety of gifts to his ministry.

“There are so many amazing priests out there, and I think, ‘I want to be like Father so-and-so,’” he said. “But the Lord continually says, ‘No, you’re not him. I gave you gifts. Be you.’”

He added, “People have a misperception of what holiness is. They think the only emotions you can have are happiness and some anger when people speak poorly of the Church. But holiness is a real integration of the Spirit in your life, because holiness is a daily saying ‘Yes’ to Jesus. It’s continually being faithful to using the gifts God’s given you, where God has placed you [and] with whom he has placed you. It’s allowing him to transform your hobbies, your language, who you hang out with — allowing him to transform you as you, and not who you think you should be.”

Father Quail credits many priests who were instrumental in his formation and ultimate return to the seminary: Father Paul Rutten from the SDSU Newman Center; Father Robert Pish at the St. Paul Seminary; his spiritual director, Father Joe Bambenek, pastor of St. Pius X in White Bear Lake; Father Patrick Hipwell, pastor of Nativity of Our Lord; and Father Michael Van Sloun, pastor of St. Batholomew in Wayzata, his teaching parish.

In the priesthood, Father Quail most looks forward to fulfilling the call he felt all along: “Being who God called me to be,” he said, “[and] to bring the joy of the Gospel to a really hungry world.”

Father Quail will be ministering as parochial vicar of St. Stephen in Anoka.

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  • Ann

    I lived in Sioux Falls, South Dakota when I was a child. My family belonged to St. Mary’s Catholic Church and I attended second through seventh grade there. I made my first communion in second grade and confirmation in third. The nuns even made me learn French starting in second grade. I am fluent in French and passed doctoral exams at NYU in French translation – thank you, sisters. In eighth grade, we moved to Minneapolis, MN. The faith was not as strong as it was in Sioux Falls. Father would be fortunate to serve in the Sioux Falls diocese. I am grateful for the spiritual foundation the diocese of Sioux Falls gave me.

  • Dominic Deus

    As a member of a “mixed family” of Lutherans and Catholics I welcome Fr. Quail to “the other side of the aisle” as politicians say. Of course,”other” is relative….(LOL… “relative” get it?). I am very happy to read that his transition was welcomed by his family and Catholic Church. It’s my hope that all transitions in our Church can be a joyfully celebrated as this one!

    Best Wishes,

    Dominic