Clay Mathews (left) with his mother, Nikki, and father, Mike, take a moment to soak in the beauty of Mount Angel Seminary. Mathews, a seminarian for the Diocese of Boise, Idaho, began his pre-theology studies in September. (Courtesy of Clay Mathews)
Clay Mathews (left) with his mother, Nikki, and father, Mike, take a moment to soak in the beauty of Mount Angel Seminary. Mathews, a seminarian for the Diocese of Boise, Idaho, began his pre-theology studies in September. (Courtesy of Clay Mathews)
Little did Father Francisco Flores know the ripple effect of a suggestion to a young man — a non-Catholic — that he consider the priesthood.

That remark planted the seed that led to Clay Mathews’ conversion, which then led to his decision to enroll in seminary, which led to the conversion of his parents.

As St. Paul said in his first letter to the Corinthians, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God caused the growth.”

In 2016, Mathews and his two Catholic roommates and other friends were having dinner with Father Flores, then the pastor of Our Lady of the Valley Parish in Caldwell, Idaho. At the time Mathews had been attending various churches in his home state of Idaho, looking for one that felt like home.

“I was telling Father Flores that I wanted to submit my life entirely to Christ,” said Mathews. Father Flores’ response “changed my life completely,” he said.

“He very calmly looked at me and said, ‘Well, Clay, maybe God is calling you to be a Catholic priest.’ My first response was to laugh because I still wasn’t Catholic at this point. But those words never left me.”

In fact, Mathews said, those words “bothered me” until he started researching the priesthood.

Two-and-a-half years later, Mathews entered the seminary and started pre-theology at Mount Angel in September.

Two months prior to that dinner with Father Flores, Mathews had gone to London. A visit to evening prayer at that city’s famed Westminster Abbey in 2017 piqued his interest in liturgical worship.

“I had never really experienced liturgy,” Mathews said. “I thought it was so tremendously beautiful.”

Mathews had been baptized Baptist and spent most of his youth in the evangelical tradition. But his brief introduction to liturgical worship and his own study and reading helped him realize he wanted something different than non-denominational Protestantism.

He began attending St. Michael Episcopal Cathedral in downtown Boise, where his love for liturgy intensified. At the same time, he was beginning to find in Catholicism the truths he had been seeking all through college, he said. He came into the church June 25, 2017.

Within six months of his confirmation, Mathews moved to Honduras for 18 months as a volunteer for Amigos de Jesus, a home for abandoned, abused and impoverished children. While in Honduras, Mathews taught English and religion classes while also trying to set an example as a healthy adult role model for children.

Back home in Twin Falls, his parents, Mike and Nikki Matthews, were open to their son’s decision to become Catholic — until he dropped another bombshell. Their only son was considering priesthood.

“You know it was one thing for Clay to say, ‘I think I’m becoming Catholic,’ but when he told me that he was thinking about becoming a priest, that’s a whole different level,” said Nikki. She and her husband had been Baptist, then Church of the Nazarene, and were not affiliated with any church when their son became Catholic.

“I didn’t know anything about Catholicism,” Nikki said.

A teacher, Nikki decided to spend the summer of 2017 reading. She started with Scott Hahn’s “Rome Sweet Home,” then Steve Rey’s “Crossing the Tiber,” books recommended by Matthews. And she listened to “Catholic Answers” on the radio. Although Mike was not as fervent in his study as Nikki, he agreed to attend Mass with her and both went through Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. Together, they were received into the church in Easter 2018.

“What I discovered was the most beautiful thing; this is what I’ve been looking for my whole life,” she said. In the various Protestant churches they attended, “I felt like we chose a church because you were choosing the people or the pastor. But when you come to the Catholic Church, you come for the Real Presence of Christ.”

Fadness is editor of the Idaho Catholic Register. This story was reprinted with permission.