Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
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Father Gamber, spiritual formation director for Bishop White Seminary, returns to Chicago
by Bonita Lawhead, Inland Register staff
(From the April 29, 2004 edition of the Inland Register)
Jesuit Father Matt Gamber says goodbye to students as the school year draws to a close. Father Gamber leaves his posts at Bishop White Seminary and Gonzaga University this year. (IR photo from Gonzaga University)
Jesuit Father Matt Gamber, associate director of University Ministry at Gonzaga University in Spokane, is leaving at the end of the school year to take a pastoral assignment in the Chicago area. He will finish at GU sometime this summer.
The priest was director for three years, serving as chaplain, mentor, friend and guide to GU students.
Father Gamber came to the post at the same time that University Ministry was moved from GU’s Student Life department to be under the Vice President for Student Mission, Jesuit Father Bill Watson.
“It was part of Father Robert Spitzer’s plan (as president of GU) to improve religious formation of GU students,” said Father Gamber.
The office of Student Mission undertook a capital campaign, with part of the goal to increase the size of University Ministry and to strengthen the ministry’s work.
The plan bore fruit. Father Gamber said the department is growing: “We’ve been adding people and increased our budget.”
The focus on spiritual life deepened, on “Catholic culture, with a real emphasis on liturgy,” he said.
Flowing out of University Ministry came all those traditional spiritual opportunities offered by the church. Father Gamber gave a lengthy list: retreats for each college level, conferences, marriage, engagement and pre-engagement preparation, the Sacrament of Reconciliation several hours a week, and student Masses, some of which start at 10 p.m.
“You have to do them in students’ time frame,” Father Gamber said. Students apparently appreciate the late starting time; the Masses are well-attended.
But there were new programs, too. Father Gamber started a Vocations Fair, held for the past two years, which brought to the campus Religious orders, vocations directors and college students (“Diocese, Religious communities raise awareness at GU vocations fair,” IR 3/18/04). Father Gamber also helped form a group for women interested in vocations and the spiritual life. It meets regularly for prayer and discernment.
Another new group is called the “Neumann-Stein” club, from Sts. John Neumann and Edith Stein. This group is comprised of about 100 college students who meet in small groups of six or seven people every week. Once a month they come together in a large group meeting. “They are serious committed Catholics,” Father Gamber said.
A series of speakers on current topics also helped bolster students’ religious life. These included Matthew Kelly, a Catholic evangelist from Australia, and Mary Beth Bonacci, a speaker on chastity and the single life.
Father Gamber picked two events as highlights of his ministry at GU. The major event was taking 30 students to Toronto for World Youth Day last summer. Father Gamber recalled being a student in Rome when Karol Woltyja was named pope. “Seeing his mission, especially with young people, made him a model for me,” he said.
The second highlight was welcoming 15 GU students into the Catholic Church April 25. Father Gamber guided them through an RCIA program and then was celebrant at the Mass for their profession of faith.
Another hat worn by Father Gamber involving young people included that of director of spiritual formation at Bishop White College Seminary in Spokane. His work at the seminary was primarily to make sure the seminarians were on track with their spiritual lives and to help them discern if the seminary was where God wanted them to be. “It was a wonderful experience,” said Father Gamber. “I really loved it.”
He was also an advisor to Father Darrin Connall, vocations director for the diocese and rector of Bishop White, and the two men, who became good friends, also worked to strengthen the ties between the seminary and university. “He was a good director, very generous, and he will be missed,” Father Connall said.
One of the reasons for enjoying his work as he does is that Father Gamber relates to young people. Through his own experiences, the priest said he “really strongly identifies with kids. They have big challenges these days,” he said, one of which is to “successfully navigate through adolescence in America.”
The Jesuit focus of education is a “concern for the whole person,” Father Gamber said, which helps young people through adolescence to adulthood. “The spiritual life is an integral part of a student’s overall formation. We try to support and challenge them in their faith, to help them grow. Everyone is graced and called and blessed and it’s exciting to help students find that.”