Our Fulbright Scholar

March 26, 2012 |

By Father Gregory Houck, O.Carm.

“The Fulbright Commission aims to bring a little more knowledge, a little more reason and a little more compassion into world affairs and thereby increase the chance that nations will learn at last to live in peace and friendship.”
— Mission Statement of the Fulbright Program

Matthew James Gummess, currently living at Carith House in Hyde Park, Chicago, will be leaving this month to a town named Talca in the country of Chile. Talca is about three hours south of Santiago, the capital city. As a recipient of a Fulbright Scholarship, in their Cultural Ambassador program, he will both teach and take classes there during the upcoming year.

The Fulbright Scholarships were begun in 1947 by Senator William J. Fulbright of Arkansas (1945 – 75) and have become one of the most prestigious scholarships available. Matt applied for the scholarship while finishing his bachelor’s degrees (in physics and in philosophy) from Yale University, and learned of the award at his graduation in May. Meanwhile, he had applied to the Carmelites and had been accepted. Since the dates for this scholarship will interrupt this pre-novice year, he is in residence this year at Carith House and will officially become a pre-novice when he returns this summer.

Matt was born in Hobbs, New Mexico, on April 26, 1986 (which makes him 22 years of age). When he was 12 years old, his father took a teaching position at the University of Saint Francis and so the family moved to Joliet, Illinois. His parents, Margo and Glenn, and his sister, Alicia, currently live in Joliet.

He got to know the Carmelites as a student at Joliet Catholic Academy, and in conversations with Father Donald Buggert, O.Carm., at Saint Patrick’s Church in Wilton Center, Illinois, where Father Donald helps out in the summers. In his junior year at Yale, Matt decided to investigate a possible religious vocation, but had not made any decisions. Meanwhile, he had begun conversations with Don. At first Don did not want to steer him in any direction in particular so they discussed ‘vocation’ in general and the various groups out there. Finally, Father Donald asked, “and how about us?” Coincidentally, Matt went to Whitefriars Hall intending to visit Buggert and another priest friend in the DC area, and stumbled into last year’s Vocation Discernment Weekend, and so, without any previous planning, attended the retreat.

Matt says that he was impressed with the guys at the Hall, that “they are just regular guys without pretensions, especially religious pretensions.” He also liked that the Carmelites were more interested in helping him find the ‘right Order’ instead of just promoting their own Order. Last summer Matt stopped in Darien, Illinois, one day during the Chapter meetings and a guy came up and introduced himself saying, “Hello, I’m Fernando.” Only later did someone mention that that was the Father Fernando Millán, O.Carm., the newly elected Prior General. Matt remarked later, “Even the Prior General is a regular guy.” That clinched his decision to join.

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