By Deacon Tom Picciano
Sun contributing writer
ENDICOTT — Marine Boot Camp was a scary place for a 19-year-old draftee named Bill Matts. “As soon as you get off the bus, it’s abuse upon abuse,” he remembered. After an early morning induction in Syracuse, he was among those being processed early the next morning. He got sick and kept going for several more hours before he was allowed to sleep.
“I remember that second night. I can remember praying to God, asking for his help to get through this,” Matts said. “Something happened, because beginning the next day, my life changed there in boot camp. I became the guide, the top guy out of 80-85 guys.”
Matts attended Protestant services throughout boot camp, where he finished first in his class. Then he came out first in music school and “Of course then, never went to church again,” he added.
Matts, who is now in his second year of studies to be a deacon, began his spiritual journey by attending Methodist churches with neighbors in Apalachin, N.Y. until he was in his early teens. And after the early experience in the Marines, he didn’t attend church again until he was married to his wife Debra at St. Anthony’s Church in Endicott.
He joined the Air Force, and they moved to Germany, Florida and New Mexico. But they never really became “church-goers” until he left the service and they moved to Endicott. There they joined St. Ambrose, where his seven-year-old son began to prepare for First Penance and First Communion. “He was really getting into this. Then I sensed I was missing something through my child,” Matts said. “And my wife and my child would be studying and going through stuff. He’s hyped up and here I’m missing something.”
Matts entered the RCIA program, but was soon faced with a job transfer. Rather than speed the process up before leaving Endicott, he decided to ask the pastor in Ohio.
“He said he wanted to give me a test.” Matts said.
But he thought about it. “Something’s not right, no I can’t do this. That pastor left maybe a year, two years later. We went to church just to be good examples for our kids and I was just so disheartened about this test thing.”
Matts finally became Catholic in 1985. The family moved back to Endicott where they joined St. Anthony’s and became quite active in the parish: Pre-Cana, parish council, bible study, confirmation teacher and more. He also worked with the parish feast day celebration. Matts had years of experience in management with Wendy’s, Endicott-Johnson retail and Maines when he was asked to be St. Anthony’s parish business manager in 1996.
As he completed Formation for Ministry around the year 2000, he first inquired about the diaconate. At the time, his pastor told him there was no need for a deacon.
“It wasn’t the right time. I let it go and I didn’t think about it a whole lot. I figured if God wanted me he’d tell me.”
Just before pastor Father Clarence Rumble moved to another parish in 2008, he asked Matts if he’d consider being a deacon. He reminded Father Rumble of the earlier discussion. It wasn’t until Father Jim Serowik took over as pastor that Matts finally applied and was accepted into the program.
“I’m still discerning,” he said. “The plan is a couple years. God may have another plan and if he does, I’m ok with it. I’m getting into this. I’m not saying I’m quitting or anything else because I’m certainly not. But this is God’s plan.”
Part of his discernment includes daily prayer and meditation at the parish’s chapel. Matts goes there before work. “I take a bible with me in the morning and maybe read a chapter. The majority of the time I’m trying to sit in a centering prayer sort of thing,” he said. “Sometimes when it’s hard to get into it, maybe I’ll sit there and say ‘Have mercy on my lord, I’m a sinner’ and repeat it. Or ‘God come to my assistance, make haste to help me.’ It may be different things on different days depending on where I am.”
Matts says morning and evening prayers of the Divine Office at home. In warm weather, he sits on the porch. The rest of the year, he has a room set aside for prayer. “I go off and sit and the dog will come and sit on my lap,” he said. “My wife has been very good on that and all my books are lined up there and across the room. It’s kind of mine. I read aloud to myself…I speak the words. It’s just important time for me.”
With a heavy course load for the diaconate, he finds it hard to do extra spiritual reading. He’s interested in reading more by St. Thomas Aquinas. Another saint of importance to him is St. Anthony.
Matts and his wife Debra have three children, Derek, John and Melody and two grandchildren. He said Debra has been supportive of his road to the diaconate and attends classes with him. One adjustment they’ll have to make after ordination is not sitting together at Mass. There is one change ahead this year with the parish. He’ll make all the advance preparations for the feast days this year. But a husband-wife retreat for the diaconate takes place the same weekend, which they’ll attend instead of the parish celebration.
Over the years, Matts’ priorities have changed and continue to evolve. “God is important. Family is important. Little things are important. Everything I have is from God. Everything that I’ve done is from God.”
“I’m here to do whatever I can do to help God’s people. If it means just sitting and listening to somebody who’s having a tough time, that’s fine. If it’s working in a food pantry, working with the poor, working with the homeless, which I think I would like to do, wherever he wants me.”