My name is Matthew Charlesworth SJ and I’m a Jesuit in South Africa.
Although still “in Formation” my work has taken me to several places and to some fairly varying roles affording a wonderful experience and an amazing education for which I shall always be grateful to my parents and the Society for. On entering the Society of Jesus in South Africa, I did my Novitiate in England – during which time I spent brief periods in Ireland, Scotland, Spain and the Netherlands. In a splendid twist of divine irony, my first mission after first vows was to a Dominican Convent school (not a Jesuit College) in Johannesburg, South Africa teaching English before journeying to London for studies in Philosophy where I was also able to work with the young people in the parish. I’ve taught mathematics and computer science in a rural school in Chikuni Catholic Mission in Zambia and in the urban hustle-and-bustle of Dar-Es-Salaam in Tanzania. I’ve also interned at our Jesuit Institute in South Africa and at Loyola Productions in California. I was sent to do my Theology studies in Nairobi, Kenya and am currently continuing my theological studies in Toronto, Canada.
As a child, I moved around a lot when I was young, moving cities and changing schools several times owing to my father’s work situation. One of the constants however was my family’s association with our Parish. I was an altar server for many years, perhaps being more interested in seeing friends at Mass each week, but always eager about going to practices and helping out. I remember shortly after matriculating, before leaving for university, when the subject of what I should do with my life was quite high on my list of thoughts, whilst serving at Christmas midnight Mass, my parish priest came up to me during the sign of peace and said to me – “Remember Matthew, God can still use a Priest with a BCom”. I didn’t end up doing a BCom degree, but I did always remember that priesthood was an option. So, I sort of struck a deal with God and said that, well, if I’m still thinking about priesthood at the end of the degree, then I would give God my first option. The way I saw it, I had nothing to lose.
Unlike my mother, my father was not a Catholic and it was fairly obvious to everyone that whatever else I did, I would have to study for a degree first. Luckily, after I discovered the Jesuits, this was not such a handicap as I first thought. I really enjoyed my time at Rhodes University, and whilst there I got involved with the Association of Catholic Tertiary Students (ACTS). This was providential because it led me to meet other Catholic students and chaplains from other universities, some of whom were Jesuits. Through ACTS I was able to get to know more Jesuits and eventually I was invited to do some retreats and spend some weekends with them. Studying away from home, this interaction was limited to e-mail or face-to-face during holidays and at ACTS Conferences as there were no Jesuits living nearby. Perhaps, because of this my candidacy lasted longer than usual: it took about 6 years to be invited to join. Whilst this was a long time, it did allow me a great deal of time to think about how best to live my life.
I thought then, and remain convinced today, that living in the Society of Jesus is exactly where the Lord has called me, and I feel privileged to be a part of such an inspiring and encouraging group of Christians willing to bring God's good news to the frontiers and crossroads of the Church and Society.