John F. Mattingly, P.S.S.
January 19, 1923 – June 8, 2020
“As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you will be buried at a good old age.” (Gen 15:15). These words which Yahweh spoke to Abram could well be spoken to Fr. Mattingly, who enjoyed the benefits of God’s grace for seventy-two years as a priest and ninety-seven years of life. Living got to be such a habit for him that it was hard to imagine him any other way. When he died, he was the oldest Sulpician in the US Province.
Born January 19, 1923 and raised in Cumberland, MD, Fr. Mattingly was one of four children of John and Teresa (nee Winters) Mattingly.
Fr. Mattingly was educated in Cumberland parochial schools under the direction of the School Sisters of Notre Dame and the De LaSalle Brothers. Then he entered the high school division of St. Charles College in 1936 where he met the Sulpicians. After completing high school and the first two years of college there, he went to Theological College, Washington, D.C. as a Basselin Scholar in philosophy at The Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C. He completed his B. A. in 1944 and his M.A. in 1945. He began his theological studies there in 1944 and completed his S.T.L. in 1948. He was ordained for the Archdiocese of Baltimore on May 22, 1948. He immediately joined the Sulpicians and was admitted to the Society in 1949.
Fr. Mattingly remained at The Catholic University of America to further his studies in theology with a concentration in Scripture. He then went to study at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome to receive the S.S.L. in 1952. After twenty-four years of non-stop education, he took his first teaching assignment as a Sulpician at St. Patrick’s Seminary, Menlo Park, CA, where he was professor of biblical studies from 1952-1968. During those years, biblical courses were taught on a rotating basis. Fr. Mattingly tried to introduce a sequential course program so that the Old Testament would be taught before the New. However, the rector, Fr. Mulligan, rejected this proposal on the basis of setting a bad precedent for biblical studies! After a decade and a half at St. Patrick’s, Fr. Mattingly was then assigned to be professor of biblical studies and dean of the theologate, St. Thomas Seminary, Kenmore, WA (1968-1972).
Despite the fact that Fr. Mattingly was appreciated as a good priest, a dear and gracious man, and an industrious worker, teaching was not his strength. As a formator, he was strict about keeping the rule. As with other matters of life, he would get lost in small details and gained the reputation of making even small infractions of the rule reason for holding a student back from being advanced towards priesthood. Accepting the reality that he was not effective in the classroom and had become outdated in his teaching methods and biblical scholarship after the Vatican Council, he brought his teaching career to a close, generously giving his biblical library to a younger Sulpician colleague just beginning biblical studies. Fr. Mattingly nevertheless continued to contribute to seminary education and priestly formation in other ways.
In 1972, he returned to Baltimore to assume various roles as a support person in administration and to serve as assistant treasurer at St. Mary’s Seminary & University (1972-1976). In 1976 he went back to The Catholic University of America to earn a degree in library science, which he was able to complete in a summer and one full school year. In 1977 he was awarded the M.S.L.S. Fresh with this degree, he went back to St. Patrick’s Seminary, Menlo Park, CA in 1977 to serve in the library for the next twenty years, first as Director (1977-1990) and then assisting the new Director until his retirement in 1997 to the Sulpician retirement community of what was then St. Charles Villa in Catonsville, MD, now named Villa Olier.
Fr. Mattingly was a lifelong learner. His interests were broad, and he read widely. He often plunged into the latest works on theology and Bible, even very large works that would have intimidated others of his age. As his world grew smaller from having to give up driving, he nonetheless tried to keep his mind alive through conversation, reading, and listening to CDs of the Great Lectures series. Even in his later years, he could be found pushing his walker through the Villa while listening to those CDs. His energy seemed as boundless as his interests. He rightfully earned the nickname among his confreres as the “energizer bunny.” It was not unusual for him to ride his scooter through the Charlestown Retirement Community campus to visit the Sulpician cemetery. The confreres joked that he wanted to stay on good terms with his future companions!
Throughout his Sulpician career, he was a faithful community man, always present for community events and mixing well with everyone. Visitors to the Villa will remember him as a gracious, genteel host. As his hearing began to fail him, he found conversation with the confreres more frustrating, and his life more confusing. Yet, in his intrepid way, he continued to be faithful to every community gathering, especially the social hour at Villa Olier with his afternoon scotch, and to contribute to every conversation even if he couldn’t hear it all or follow its train of thought.
Fr. Mattingly died on June 8, 2020 at Villa Olier, Catonsville, MD. Given that he died during the days of restrictions on community gatherings due to the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020, the family requested that he be cremated and that the funeral Mass with cremains be deferred until restrictions were lifted so that everyone could attend. Fr. Mattingly requested to be buried from the chapel of Our Lady of the Angels in the Charlestown Community, the chapel where he spent many hours during his years at St. Charles College eighty-four years ago. Burial will follow in the Sulpician Cemetery, Catonsville, MD.
The psalmist once prayed, “Do not cast me off in time of old age. Do not forsake me when my strength fails” (Ps 71:9). Fr. Mattingly could well make this his prayer, too, as he enjoyed ninety-seven years of life. He did indeed live with the sense of God’s care for him to the very end. His gracious spirit will remain his lasting witness to God’s enduring love in old age.
Richard M. Gula, P.S.S.
Director of Personnel