Priest fosters open community: New Campus Catholic Ministry father hopes to welcome students at all stages of life

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Courtesy Photo /Matt Kiehl Kiehl hopes to support members of CCM during these formative years of their lives and work together to create a campus ministry that caters to students.

Father Matt Kiehl, the new priest at the Campus Catholic Ministry, is the new kid on campus. Before arriving in Williamsburg, Kiehl began his priesthood at a diocese in Richmond. After his stint in the state capital, he served as a priest at Roanoke, Virginia, where he primarily worked with regional high schoolers. His previous work with young adults will shape Kiehl as he begins his new position at the College of William and Mary.

“I was our school’s campus minister as well and the chaplain of our school, which was actually pre-K through 12,” Kiehl said. “So in a sense, I think it was pretty good preparation for moving into campus ministry. I was working mostly with juniors and seniors in high school, so they were saying when I found out I would be coming here, ‘Oh you’re graduating and headed to college!’”

Kiehl had suspected he would be reassigned from his Roanoke position, and sure enough, he was called to start a new assignment at the College by the bishop.

“I had suspected I would be getting a new assignment, but I would not in my wildest dreams have thought I would have landed here, but I was really thrilled; it was a very pleasant surprise, and, as I said, especially given some of the work I had been doing in a high school context, it felt in a way like a very natural progression,” Kiehl said. 

Kiehl was raised Catholic, and religion was a major part of his life that he always enjoyed. Once Kiehl headed to college at George Mason University, he became accustomed to going to mass regularly. 

“It  was over those years, while I was studying government, where my discernment took on a more intentional flavor,” Kiehl said. 

Kiehl hopes that he will be able to relate to college students, especially given his age and his adeptness with social media, and his previous work dealing with his two younger students. He also acknowledges that his previous experiences with high schoolers will hopefully assist him in relating to the College’s population.

“I hope that some of my experiences will help me to relate more to the students, and also just my disposition of openness,” Kiehl said. “Being new here, I’m just very interested in getting to know everyone, getting to know the culture, the rhythm of life on campus, so hopefully I’m in a good spot to encounter people and meet them where they are and serve them as best I can.” 

In discussing his goals for the Catholic Campus Ministry, Kiehl asserts that he did not come into this role with a set agenda, but instead wants to pursue listening to student needs.

“I hope that in a sense I can bring my own experience in that part of my life to the folks here, you know to kind of recognize and affirm the fact that this is a very formative time in the lives of the student here, not only in an academic sense, but in a vocational sense, and just in the sense of developing as a human being, and all the things that that entails.” 

“I hope that in a sense I can bring my own experience in that part of my life to the folks here, you know to kind of recognize and affirm the fact that this is a very formative time in the lives of the student here, not only in an academic sense, but in a vocational sense, and just in the sense of developing as a human being, and all the things that that entails.” 

Given Williamsburg’s diverse age groups, Kiehl prepares to use his previous experiences with the demographics he witnessed in Roanoke to manage the parish community in Williamsburg. Kiehl has witnessed firsthand how intertwined the College’s community is with the broader one Williamsburg, and hopes to continue to facilitate that relationship. 

“When I got here in July, I got to know some of the folks who were here year-round, and was really affirmed by how excited they were to welcome the students back to campus,” Kiehl said. “There’s a very healthy and life-giving dynamic at work there between the students and other members of the community, so I’m grateful they enjoy worshipping together and collaborating together.”

Kiehl aims for the campus ministry to be a welcoming place for students. Whether it be a place for peace or togetherness, Kiehl expresses his hope that he can create that space for students.

“I think on a college campus you have so many people that are seekers in many different ways,” Kiehl said. “People that are seeking wisdom and knowledge and the tools that they need to advance their careers, people who are seeking an encounter with God, the transcendent, seeking companionship, friendship, community.”

Kiehl enjoys walking around Williamsburg and getting to know the breweries here, as a homebrewer himself. However, most enjoyable has been getting to know people throughout the area.

“The people have been fantastic, like the students have been so welcoming, the community, the people at the university have been hugely welcoming and just great support in navigating the transition,” Kiehl said. 

Ultimately, Kiehl anticipates being a resource for students, especially during such a significant period of their lives.

“There are very big consequential things on the immediate horizon for you guys, and I want to really kind of be a resource and a source of prayerful support in navigating everything that comes with discerning what the future holds, what God has in store for them, that’s a real gift and something I look forward to developing as I get to know the students here.”

“There are very big consequential things on the immediate horizon for you guys, and I want to really kind of be a resource and a source of prayerful support in navigating everything that comes with discerning what the future holds, what God has in store for them, that’s a real gift and something I look forward to developing as I get to know the students here.”