Let us pray in thanksgiving for the life of Fr. Donald R. Matthys, SJ, who died on January 30, 2024 at St. Camillus Jesuit Community in Wauwautosa, Wisconsin. He was 87 years old. May he rest in peace.
Don is survived by his brother, Robert, and his sister, Lorraine Marten.
Don was born in Fort Dodge, Iowa. Before entering the Society, he studied at St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota. He entered the Wisconsin Province of the Society of Jesus on August 17, 1955 at the Jesuit novitiate in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. He was ordained a priest on June 8, 1968 in Fort Dodge, Iowa, and pronounced final vows on December 8, 1983 at the Church of the Gesu in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
While in the Society, Don earned a bachelor’s degree from Spring Hill College (1962), a master’s degree in physics (1964) from the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia (1964), and a licentiate degree in theology from Saint Louis University (1969). Don earned a doctorate in physics from Washington University in Saint Louis, Missouri (1975). The title of his dissertation was: “An Experimental Approach to the Uncertainty Principle.”
During regency, Don taught Latin and math at Marquette University High School (1964-1965). After earning his doctorate, he was a professor of physics at Marquette University (1974-2013) before becoming a professor emeritus. In 2019, Don was missioned to St. Camillus Jesuit Community to pray for the Church and the Society.
Don was a dedicated scientist, scholar, and professor. He was observant, curious, and always wanted to “figure out” how things work. He researched and published in the area of lasers (e.g., Optical Measurement Techniques for Remote Sensing of Displacements and Strains in Structural Elements) and holographic/fiber optic systems.
He also was a leader in his field: he was chair of the Optical Methods Division and vice president of the Applied Optics Group of the Society for Experimental Mechanics. Don was a consultant to AT&T on deformations in microcircuit modules. He also was awarded summer faculty fellowships at NASA and received the Space Act Tech Brief Award from the NASA Inventions and Contributions Board.
Fr. George Winzenburg, SJ, has these memories of Don:
Don was quiet, thoughtful, kind, and extremely intelligent. His intellectual passion was mathematics, but he also excelled in the classics. He quoted lines from Latin and Greek literature that he learned in the juniorate. His graduate studies were in physics, and he taught courses at all levels at Marquette University, where he earned the rank of professor, and upon retirement was named professor emeritus. His specialty was optics. He collaborated with professors at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and wrote computer programs for research projects. Altogether, he co-authored 35 articles. His hobbies were chess and Go, the abstract strategy board game developed in China that pits two players whose aim is to surround more territory than the opponent. He had a large heart for people in need. For many decades, he befriended a woman with multiple sclerosis and helped her almost every day. Don lived simply. He was a faithful Jesuit priest. He accepted his diminishment with equanimity and chose to enter hospice so he could enjoy the friendship of his companions and pass peacefully to the Lord.