|Fr. Matthew Schneider, LC|
As I begin my ministry, I’m often back in my
home town, Calgary, Canada. When people ask me where I’m
from I mention my childhood neighborhood, and the response is
sometimes, “Can anything good come out of Rundle?” (cf. John
1:46) My family left the neighborhood as it turned bad.
That is, however, one of the least surprising aspects of
My grandfather left Germany to escape the Nazis. To
him, his brother and his mom, sleeping in a freezing
barn in Canada was preferable to living in Germany in
the 1930s. They worked hard to raise themselves out of
poverty. My dad is one of the hardest workers I’ve
Even though my name is Schneider, I take after
the Buckleys (my mom’s family) more. We are a bunch
of nerds. My great-great-grandfather was already a University professor in
Canada. Every generation since then has had a university degree.
My grandparents met at a chemical research facility and between
them and their 4 kids they have 10+ university degrees.
My cousin is finishing her PhD in Chemistry as I
write this. Simplified: I’m a nerd from a family of
I followed the family path; despite being one of the
youngest kids in my class and a late bloomer, I
always got top marks in Math and Science. When I
was a kid, my favorite camp wasn’t ECyD but Dinosaur
Country Science Camp. We dug up real dinosaur fossils and
participated in archeological mapping of an Indian village. I loved
this all. After High School, I signed up for Computer
Engineering with a minor in Philosophy and the local university
and loved it. I figured I would be happy as
a Catholic layman designing computers to better this world.
I needed for the good life was a cute wife
and a few munchkins.
But it was not to be.
get to the moment of the call while I was
in University, I’ll review my childhood spiritual journey. My family
was Catholic but not boisterously so. We went to mass
every Sunday – even on vacation we’d find a church.
But beyond that we didn’t really do much; we’d pray
together every so often, I went to Catholic school, and
we learned the importance of marriage and family.
My family was
and is extremely close. I remember many moments of family
closeness as a kid. My mom gave up a promising
engineering career to be a stay-at-home mom. My 3 sisters,
mom, and dad still regularly spend time together even while
2 sisters are married.
As a teen I fell away from
the Church. However, when I didn’t want to go, my
parents still dragged me to Church. At one point my
sister convinced me to be an altar server. My obsession
with science led me to question free will – I
mean we can describe everything with scientific laws – and
my obsession with aliens and other phenomena lead me to
question everything spiritual – if they’re out there and they’re
smarter, they could do stuff like that we would think
was supernatural. The arguments of science seemed airtight. The arguments
about aliens seemed confused and uncertain but they seemed to
be the best I could come up with so I
stuck with them.
I was never a big partier or got
into big trouble – the biggest grounding I ever got
was for staying out past midnight at a chess tournament.
Externally I seemed like a great kid but inside the
gears were turning hard in the wrong direction.
These beliefs I
developed seemed true yet incomplete. To me it seemed liked
I discovered something so many others had missed. However, something
was off. They didn’t quite satisfy. Then one day as
I was taking the C-Train (metro) to high school a
thought came to me, These beliefs are all a void,
they are empty, they don’t satisfy, and if they’re really
true it didn’t matter if I was moral, if I
killed myself, or if I cared about others. They did
not give me meaning in life. I needed to find
beliefs with meaning. I looked briefly at different beliefs like
Hindus and Jews but focused on Christianity since that seemed
to give meaning to some people around me. I began
to be convinced of the claims of Jesus. I went
to my parish and I couldn’t find 5 teens who
wanted to go to mass and took their faith seriously
– maybe it is some other form of Christianity that
would give me meaning since Catholicism doesn’t seem to give
meaning. There were many active Protestant teens nearby; maybe they
understood Jesus better? But my parents and my grandpa seemed
to get meaning from Catholicism so perhaps it deserved another
look. What claims separate the two versions of Christianity? I
found answers online and it seemed that Protestantism was invented
1500 years after Jesus by denying stuff the Church had
always taught. How could Jesus have left his believers so
confused for so long? That is when I was saved
by the Internet – I began to find Catholic teens
online, and they were fired up.
Shortly after that my family
moved to the country (as I mentioned, we left a
neighborhood that was turning bad). I would ride my bike
out to a secret place, lie down in the tall
grass, look up in the sky, and think. I thought
about God, about eternity, about so many different things. Later,
I would realize that this was the way Jesus was
teaching me mental prayer.
I was a serious Catholic at university;
few people who knew me doubted that. I was involved
in campus ministry and pro-life, and I was always debating
students in a weekly public forum on issues of the
day. I didn’t date my first 2 years because I
was waiting till dating might end with marriage. I had
already picked out one girl and knew a few others
who I might ask out if the first didn’t work
In my second year, I had one fateful night, February
11, 2001. We had evening mass at the university where
I was the sacristan, but then before we went out
to a restaurant, we had a presentation on World Youth
Day 2000 in Rome. The goal was to get us
to sign up for WYD 2002 in Toronto; I would
have gone except for this presentation. At one moment the
words of John Paul II flashed across the screen, “Be
not afraid to be the saints of the new millennium.”
At that moment I was gone. I don’t remember anything
else. All of a sudden, I had this interior certainty
that Jesus wanted me to be his priest. It’s hard
to describe, I just knew that was what he wanted.
I had thought about the priesthood before but at this
moment it went from an outside possibility (like running for
politics) to a certainty. I knew it but I briefly
tried to run; I avoided my friends a little, and
spent hours searching online trying prove to myself that it
One of my best friends was an ex-consecrated member
of Regnum Christi and I had a few other friends
in the movement. Their example of life, lead me to
immediately consider the Legion when I heard the call. So
I decided to visit Cheshire.
I was still fighting it. I
dyed my hair black and made sure I wore a
shirt I got by donating to the campus radio station
– “Spreading Lies and Misinformation for 15 Years CJSW 90.9”
– when I visited Cheshire to try to scare the
Legionaries off. As I arrived at the airport in Connecticut,
two brothers searched around for me, while I listened to
Invincible by Skillet (Industrial Christian Rock – yes it exists)
on my Discman. One pointed to me and wanted to
ask if I might be the guy they were picking
up, while the other gave me one look and said
“He can’t be coming to visit a seminary.” The 2nd
brother was just ordained a priest last year. Despite this
mixed judgment, the moment I stepped in the novitiate, I
felt a great peace. The closest I had experienced to
this point was lying in the tall grass and “thinking.”
At this point, I said to myself, “I am going
to die here.”
The rest of the visit is a blur.
The only other thing I remember was some video of
John Paul II greeting Legionaries at various events.
I went to
a diocesan vocation day after I visited Cheshire but, despite
being well run and objectively attractive, it seemed dead to
I joined the candidacy with the intention of staying for
novitiate, at least. In a way I treated the vocation
like I had thought about dating: I was giving it
a maximum of 2 or 3 years and if I
wasn’t pretty sure by then, I was leaving.
I skimmed through
candidacy. As candidacy was ending we had 8-day spiritual exercises.
On the 8th day, after dinner I went outside lied
down on a bench and looked up into the sky,
and interiorly lost all my wind and everything turned black.
For the next six months I swerved from one obstacle
to my vocation to another. It was the darkest time
of my life. I wondered, I questioned, I doubted, and
I almost lost hope. Yet I didn’t. I came through
and then almost as quickly as it began, it ended.
I had presented every obstacle to my vocation to myself,
my director and to God. None of them had succeeded.
Very soon after it was over, I was able to
have a moral certainty that this was my path –
it just took the superiors 7 years to agree when
they accepted me for final vows.
My Legionary life has been
much like the others so I won’t bore you with
all the stages; I’ll just narrate two episodes. First, went
I was finishing philosophy, I thought “I’m never going to
work with kids, I’m too much of a nerd and
I’ll speak right over their heads.” Then I got assigned
with ECyD. I decided to give it my best because
I’d either succeed or fail in a manner my superiors
could see I tried so they would assign me to
an apostolate I’d be good at. I guess I succeeded.
By the end of internship, I saw working with ECyD
as part of the specific vocation I have in the
I had really clearly felt the call to the priesthood
but as I worked out in the field, I noticed
something else. I was not just a seminarian, I was
a religious. I realized the value of my religious consecration
and not only being a priest. It was a deeper
understanding of the same call I received listening to John
Somehow through God’s mysterious plan, he has lead me
through this serendipitous path and I will be ordained as
a Legionary this December. I’ll be the first Legionary priest
Fr. Matthew Schneider, L.C., was born on October
24, 1982, in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. He left a degree
in Computer Engineering to enter the Legion. He entered the
Legionaries of Christ as a novice in Cheshire, Connecticut, U.S.A.,
on September 14, 2001. He studied Classical Humanities in Cheshire.
Has a degree in philosophy and theology from the Pontifical
Ateneum Regina Apostolorum. He collaborated in youth ministry in Ohio
(U.S.A). He currently serves in youth ministry in Calgary, Canada.