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Joseph Wesley Mathews

October 8, 1911 – October 16, 1977

Joe Mathews (Niche 9B) and son John (Niche 10B)

ashes are located at the Woodlawn Mausoleum, 7750 West Cermak Road, Forest Park, IL 60130

Many of Mathews talks are found HERE and more on Joe and Lyn HERE

And here are selected talks in Bending History: Volume I (2005) and Volume II (2011)


Witness at the funeral of Joseph Mathews by his brother, Bishop James Mathews (Oct.20, 1977)



Joseph Wesley Mathews was a man like every other man and yet he played a unique role in the life of this Order, in the life of the church and in the world. 


Driven by the care for suffering mankind, Joe helped bring into being an ecumenical family religious order. Made up of men and women from across the globe, this order is a servanthood force in direct service to the globe; this order is a servanthood force in direct service to the profound mystery of life. Joe trained a disciplined corps of people who can actuate effective 20th century methods of profound human sociological care for the masses. Joe spent years developing ways to recover the ancient religious wisdom for 20th century man as he did his work on the New Religious Mode and the Other World. His constant attention to the symbolic dimension of life awoke the community to the power of rituals, especially to the power of the liturgy which became the spiritual foundation of the corporate body. Through the years, Joe constantly grounded his own experience in what it meant to be the religious. He emphasized the fact that standing as the religious is a perpetual task of being “structural revolutionaries.”


Joe considered himself before all else to be a servant to the historical church, He was committed to its renewal in order to bring about the recovery of service to the world by the church in mission. In the articulation of se “The Christ of History”, he gave to the 20th century a way for everyman to appropriate the Word, The development of a curriculum to be used in the training of awakened churchmen across the globe was intended to recover the rich heritage of the church and to re-engage the church in the world. With the Local Church model, Joe was convinced that the church at the local level had the methods and structural forms to call forth every local congregation into service for humanity. In more recent years, his concern was to see through the depths of profound humanness which binds mankind into one body to a new religious mode that transcends all present forms. He saw this as primal ecumenism in its broadest sense.


Joe became increasingly aware of the necessity to discern the deep trends of history which are shaping the future of the world. He helped direct the corporate power of the Institute staff toward enabling the resurgence of grassroots community. It was his conviction that local people would assume responsibility for their own future if given practical and effective methodologies. This was grounded in the model for total community reformulation which was first developed on the West Side of Chicago in 5th City. Once this was in being, Joe participated in the selection of 23 other human development project sites in 19 other countries to serve as demonstration signs of hope to the world. In the midst of this task. he elicited the interest and attention of both the private and public sectors across the world in addressing the disparities which exist between the 85% and the 15% of the world. Addressing this gap was what Joe saw as the moral issue of our time. Joe was committed to the awakenment of local people in communities across the globe, through structures.

Neil Vance Remembers Joe


One time when we were traveling, Joe Matthews allowed me to stay in a hotel that he stayed in. I regret his permission. I normally stayed in the local religious house. We stayed in the Fairfax Hotel, which was a luxury hotel in Nairobi.  I was luxuriating in the single room when I heard a knock knock on the door. It was Joe, wearing his lungi.


Joe said he couldn’t sleep because of worry about our organization. I said I slept fine for 30 minutes. He asked, “Did we make a mistake in incorporating the Institute of Cultural Affairs?” As a fundraiser, I am merely responded that no we didn’t make a mistake; but it makes things easier for a donor to give to a non-religious group.


He responded, “Do they realize that the ICA is a pirate ship? That we raised the ICA flag when we were in hostile ports? That our real ship is the Ecumenical Institute?”


I couldn’t sleep the rest of the night worrying about our organization. Joe said he slept fine.



Joe Mathews as a Singer

Joe Matthews and I had one thing in common: we should spend time in the Marshall Islands. I was there as a Peace Corps volunteer; and Joe was commissioned to Kwajalein in World War II where he served as a chaplain. He talks about the time the Marshallese were dug in. It was Christmas Eve and he heard some carols coming from the Marshellese. He returned the favor singing off key. (Parenthetically he had a terrible singing voice.)


People who encountered Joe Mathews often recall a brusqueness, but few knew that he also had quite a sense of humor.

  • One time in Washington, D.C. when Pat Moriarity and I put Joe in a hotel, we were dispatched for a bottle of vodka. We put the vodka in a separate container and put water in the vodka bottle. Joe really liked his vodka. He slurped down the water.  I asked him, “How is the vodka?” He laughed.  At himself.

  • Later in his hotel room, when I was sitting on the throne in his bathroom, I noticed a piece of paper being inserted under the door. Then Joe lit it. We all laughed when I rushed to get up and put out the fiery newspaper.

  • Another time when we were traveling together, I was closing up his suitcase and put a fat man shoe horn in his bag (a shoehorn that is long for fat people). Joe reported that the hotel called him and asked about a stolen shoe horn. He was kidding of course; but buddy, he had me for a second.


Joe had a good sense of humor.





Joseph Wesley Mathews, Dean of the Ecumenical Institute and Executive Director of the Institute of Cultural Affairs, died on October 16, 1977, after a brief illness.  Born in Breezewood, Pennsylvania, Mathews is survived by his wife, Evelyn, two sons, Joseph and James, and a daughter-in-law, Teresa.  His Third son, John is deceased.  He is also survived by three sisters and a brother: Bishop James, K. Mathews of Washington, DC, Mrs. Allene Watson of Houston, Texas, Mrs. Margaret Hotaling of Sharon, Connecticut, and Mrs. Alice Neill of Norwich, New York.


An ordained minister of the United Methodist Church, Mathews received his Bachelor of Divinity degree from Drew Theological Seminary, Madison, New Jersey. He did graduate work at Union Theological Seminary, New York City, and Yale University in the fields of contemporary theology and theological ethics. His undergraduate work in philosophy and literature was at Asbury College and Lincoln Memorial University. During World War II he was a chaplain in the U.S. Army in the Central Pacific. Mathews was on the faculties of southern Methodist University and Colgate University and was the Director of Studies for the Christian Faith and Life Community at the University of Texas.


In 1962 Mathews assumed the position of dean of the Ecumenical Institute in Chicago and was highly regarded for his contributions to church renewal around the world. He was especially known for his work in assisting social and economic development of local communities, in the 5th City Human Development Projects in Chicago as well as others community projects around the world.