7 Questions with Matthew Plese
Name: Matthew Plese
Current title: President
Current organisation: CatechismClass.com
Matthew is a Dominican Tertiary, and his education includes two years of seminary study in Catholic Doctrine, an undergraduate Philosophy Degree, an MBA from DePaul University, and a Certificate in Catechesis from Catholic Distance University. Matthew is a national Catholic speaker and a published author. He has led CatechismClass.com since 2010.
1. What have you found most challenging as a Christian school leader?
"To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some" (1 Corinthians 9:19). I think these words best sum up my own role and my work. As the President of CatechismClass.com, I help catechize Catholics of all walks of life. From the many children in Faith formation classes, to the teachers we teach, to the adults we help either learn more on the Faith or who are in the process of studying in order to convert, I have to be able to teach the Faith to everyone. Balancing day to day administrative responsibilities, content editing, and strategic thinking along with genuine and prompt customer service is always a struggle. On any given day there are many hats to wear and people to reach out to. But like the Apostles and their successors, our bishops, I try to do all that I can to save as many souls as possible.
2. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
I have long appreciated the Benedictine motto of "ora et labora" (work and prayer). Everyday in my own life is divided. I wake up and every morning before my coffee I devote time to prayer - the saying of Lauds using the Divine Office prayers. Some days I also go to Mass. By 9 AM I am working and corresponding with staff, schools we serve, priests, students, parents, etc. I take a break for the various prayers throughout the day (Terce, Sext, and None). I also get about an hour of exercise in sometime during the day. Around 4:30 I start wrapping things up and say Vespers (the main evening prayer) along with the Rosary. After dinner I check my emails for a few more hours before winding down with family time and then bed.
3. What's the most recent significant leadership lesson you've learned?
Provide a vision for the future. It's so easy to get so overwhelmed with the day to day that people forget it's important to always go up to 30,000 feet to see where things are going and how you can help lead everyone. As much as I want to be involved with all of the day to day, my value is stronger at those strategic higher altitudes than the ground level tasks.
4. What's one book apart from the Bible that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?
The Lives of the Saints. Everyday I read of those who came before us and the lives they lived, the virtues they grew in, the temptations they conquered, the struggles they overcame. If people as young as St. Therese of Lisieux, St. Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows, or St. Dominic Savio could do so much in such a young life, how could I not do more?
5. How do you find and keep great Christian teachers?
It's all about our mission. My team of writers and editors, who make the materials that our customers use (adult converts, children, godparents, catechists, etc) all understand our purpose. We are here to pass on and transmit the beauty of the Catholic Faith in its purity of doctrine and in a way that makes others understand it is not just an intellectual exercise but one that must be lived out daily. My team understands this and that's why we have such little turnover year after year. We are all working towards that singular mission.
6. What's most important as a Christian school leader for developing a culture of wellbeing in your staff and students?
The ability to listen. Everyone has their own needs, concerns, struggles, suggestions, etc. Listening to people - truly listening and taking the time to hear them and make sure they are heard - is the most important thing we can do. We are not selling mundane products. We are, to many of our students, representatives of Christ and His Church. Our conduct must be pure and honest at all times as they will see in us actions that they will attribute to the Lord. And far be it from us to bring any scandal at all to Him.
7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a Christian school leader so far?
The thing I most enjoy is helping others learn the Faith. I think of a time years ago now when a woman in her 70s or 80s - a lifelong Catholic - took our Adult Faith Formation class. She remarked to me afterwards that she learned things that she never knew - even after being a lifelong practicing Catholic. She said that she heard certain parts of the Faith (like Purgatory) explained in a way that finally clicked for her. Helping someone better know our Lord and the Deposit of Faith is why I love doing what I do. And I still remember this conversation from around 6 years ago.