Fr. Matheson died on 19 October at René Goupil House, Pickering, due to complications from Covid. He was 93 and had been a Jesuit for just over 72 years. He was born in Brooklyn, New York, on 3 July 1930, the son of Daniel Matheson and Katherine Scannell. When he was seven, his American mother and Canadian father moved to Clyde River, near the tip of the south shore of Nova Scotia, where his father had originally come from. There was no electricity in Clyde River then, and John went to a one-room schoolhouse. The family received the New York Times in the mail, so he had some familiarity with his mother’s sophisticated background, and with literature and the arts. When John was about twelve his father joined the Canadian military, and Mrs. Matheson and John moved to an apartment in Bridgewater in Lunenburg County, still on the south shore. From there, he began going to St. Mary’s High School in Halifax.
John entered the Society at Guelph on 15 August 1951, and first vows were pronounced in 1953. After juniorate he moved to the Jesuit seminary in Toronto in 1955 for philosophy. John had his regency in 1958 at his old alma mater, Saint Mary’s High School. Two years later, he returned to Toronto, studying the English language at the University of Toronto, with a short period at Gonzaga University in Spokane. John began theology in 1962 and was ordained at Regis College, Willowdale, on 5 June 1965. Tertianship followed in Cleveland, Ohio.
John enjoyed a half century of ministry, starting at Campion College, Regina, in 1967 where he lectured in film studies. To further his skills, he went in 1969 as a student in Communication Arts at the University of California in Los Angeles. During that four-year period, he was also director of the Media Center for Black Catholics. Back in Toronto in 1973, John was appointed promoter of the apostolate of Modern Communications Media. After two years, he journeyed back west to Winnipeg to become student chaplain and media professor at St. Paul’s College in Winnipeg. His final academic move was to return to Campion College in 1977 as professor of film media, which kept him busy for nineteen years. As professor emeritus beginning in 1996, he was free to take up pastoral ministry and Jesuit community responsibilities.
From his earliest years as a Jesuit, John exhibited a strong passion for social justice. In later life, zealous as ever, he ministered to Chinese Catholics in the city. Then in 2002, he created a ministry for prisoners in the local penitentiary named Friends on the Outside (FOTO), centering on restorative justice.
In 2017 it was deemed wise by superiors that John needed a more consistent medical supervision and so he left the west for René Goupil House in Pickering. Still quite active, one of his first initiatives was to systematically organize the infirmary library. A great reader, his induced friends to donate books to that library and to La Storta House library. He volunteered as the sacristan and was often called upon during various liturgies to do readings; his mellifluous voice brought about a sense of contemplation and peace. John was a great conversationalist and the stories of his ministry and life were never dull. Even ongoing deafness did not quench his love of spiritual and secular conversation. He was blessed with a non-confrontational personality, and it was a joy to be in his presence.