In Memoriam: Rev. James 'Jay' Matthews
October 25, 1948 - March 30, 2019
Reverend James ‘Jay’ Matthews II passed away suddenly on March 30, 2019. Fr. Jay was a long-time friend and supporter of the Jesuit School of Theology, most notably, serving on JST's Board of Directors for many years. Only a month previous to his passing, Fr. Jay had celebrated mass for our community in the Gesu Chapel at JST for Black History Month, as he did each year.
Jay Matthews was born in Berkeley on October 25, 1948, and was raised in Oakland. Interested in the priesthood throughout his childhood, it was during Matthews’ confirmation in 1962 that Bishop Begin, the first Bishop of Oakland, encouraged him to consider the priesthood. Soon after graduating high school, Matthews entered seminary to become a priest. Jay was ordained on May 3, 1974. He was the first African-American to be ordained in Northern California.
Serving the Oakland area for over four decades, Fr. Jay’s ministry and influence has left an indelible impact on this community. Soon after his passing, Governor Gavin Newsom commented, “Father Jay was a trailblazer and ambassador who built bridges between people of different faiths and communities. Quick to lend a helping hand, he embodied the California values of generosity and acceptance. Father Jay has made a lasting imprint and set an example for all of us to aspire to.” During his life, his ministry and influence were recognized and celebrated, as in 2014 the Oakland City Council proclaimed May 6 as ‘Father Jay Matthews Day,’ in recognition of his standing in the community.
During his many years of ministry, Fr. Jay served as pastor at St. Benedict Parish in Oakland for 25 years. He was named third rector of the Cathedral of Christ the Light in Oakland by Bishop Michael Barber, S.J., in 2015. Matthews was instrumental in the emergence of the Black Catholic movement in the Diocese of Oakland, a movement which developed after the assassination of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He served in many other ministries, and was known in the area for his active role in the interfaith community as well as his chaplaincy to the Oakland fire and police departments. "Father Matthews' infectious love for his faith, his parishioners and his community was a source of joy and inspiration for me," said Oakland Bishop Michael C. Barber, S.J. "He truly lived what St. John Vianney, the patron saint of parish priests, described the priesthood to be: 'the love of the heart of Jesus.' I shall really miss him."
Rev. Matthew’s Mass of Christian Burial was celebrated April 8 at the Cathedral of Christ the Light in Oakland. He was interred at the St. Joseph Cemetery in San Pablo, California.