Josylin Mateus immigrated to the United States with her family when she was just four years old. As her parents worked to make a life for themselves in their new country, Mass attendance for the family was spotty, and Mateus grew up knowing very little about her Catholic faith. When she was 16, she returned to the Philippines for the first time in 12 years.
“My aunt was gushing about this person she knew named Jesus, a person she truly loved,” said Mateus. “I had never heard anyone talk about God that way before.”
Years later, when she enrolled in her first class at Sacred Heart Major Seminary, something felt familiar.
“The staff and the other students witnessed to me what it means to have a relationship with God in the same way my aunt did,” Mateus said. “When I reflect on my spiritual journey, my aunt had an impact on me that I didn’t realize at the time. She was the first person who witnessed God to me in that personal way. So when I saw it all around me at Sacred Heart, it was easier for me to recognize it.”
Sacred Heart wasn’t even on her mind until a friend suggested she take classes in 2009. Mateus had just been laid off during the economic downtown after 13 successful years as an electrical engineer. She had recently separated from her husband and was looking for purpose and direction.
“In hindsight, I can see it clearly now,” said Mateus, who serves as the Director of Religious Education at St. Thomas More Parish in Troy. “I was trying to fill my heart with something. I was searching. Being in ministry really is the Holy Spirit’s work because I would not have thought of it on my own.”
Mateus started at the seminary not knowing what to expect. She only knew that she liked the idea of obtaining a master’s degree and was happy to follow the Holy Spirit’s promptings. The first year, Mateus says she was “just going through the motions.”
By her second year of studies, she could feel her heart change as she developed a new closeness to Christ.
“Being an engineer, I need to have that head knowledge in order to have the heart knowledge – to have that profound relationship with God,” said Mateus. “And that’s what Sacred Heart is to me, a place where I can encounter God.”
Even though she was challenged by her classes, she knew she was growing and learning. Mateus recalls a time when her class was assigned a document from Vatican II. Mateus struggled with it, reading each paragraph multiple times and feeling as though much of the content was lost on her. A year and a half later, she read it again on her own. This time, it “clicked.” Mateus cried her way through it, realizing how far she had come.
“I was exposed to different documents and teachings of the church and as I learned more, it was sinking in. I knew what sources to go to and I understood in a way I hadn’t before,” she said.
While taking classes at Sacred Heart, Mateus worked part-time as an engineer for an Italian engineering company. She learned that St. Isaac Jogues in St. Clair Shores was looking for part-time help with their middle school religious education program. This role would be her first formal position in church ministry; she had previously logged many hours volunteering and had taught catechism for her daughter’s class at St. Anastasia in Troy for five years.
“When I was teaching my daughter’s class, I was learning along with her,” Mateus said. “I enrolled her in catechism class at age four because it was important to me that she’d grow up knowing the faith in a way that I didn’t.”
Ever since her deep dive into the Catholic faith in 2009, Mateus has relied on God wholeheartedly, even when she’s tempted to doubt.
“I’ve said to God, ‘You keep telling me that this is where I’m supposed to be, but I don’t always feel that.’ Then when I’d start to look for something else, he always reassured me that this ministry was what I was supposed to be doing,” said Mateus. “I learned to ‘let go and let God.’”
As a student, Mateus immersed herself in Sacred Heart during her time there. She spent countless hours praying in the chapel. She was a member of the Commuter Student Council. And she never missed a musical put on by the seminarians.
In 2017, Mateus graduated with her Master of Arts in Pastoral Studies. She’s grateful for the knowledge she gained, but most of all, she’s grateful for her new life with Jesus at the center.
“I knew Sacred Heart was a special place when I walked in and felt peace. It was healing for me, and it will always be a part of me,” Mateus said.