by Joe Bollig
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — If a man’s life could be summed up in five words, the life of Father Matthew J. Horvat was distilled thusly by Archbishop Emeritus James Patrick Keleher.
“Grace is what moved him,” he said.
Father Horvat, 80, died on Nov. 21 at Garden Terrace at Overland Park, due to complications following a stroke.
Father Horvat was pastor of St. Mary-St. Anthony Parish in Kansas City, Kan., from the time he reentered active ministry in 1997, until he retired in 2009.
“He loved the priesthood,” said Archbishop Keleher. “When the Holy See approved [his return to active ministry], he was delighted and was a most faithful priest. He did everything the archbishop asked him to do.”
One great need in the urban core of Kansas City, Kan., was for the expansion of ministry to the underserved Hispanic community.
“Father Matt was a great friend to the Hispanic community,” said Father Patrick Murphy, CS, animator of the archdiocesan Hispanic ministry. “He made the decision to open the doors of the [parish] and, because of that, the Hispanic community felt at home at St. Mary-St. Anthony.”
Father Horvat tried to learn Spanish, but unsuccessfully. Nevertheless, he attended the important celebrations of the Hispanic community.
“He’d say the concelebrant’s parts [of the Mass in Spanish], and sometimes stay after Mass and bless the children,” said Father Pat. “He didn’t speak Spanish, so he’d give them blessings in Latin. He’d say, ‘That was close enough. They’ll understand.’ That was cute.”
Father Horvat also had a heart for the poor.
“I know that Father Matt would never turn anyone away,” said Farther Pat. “He’d invite people into the house. We told him not to, because it was dangerous. A couple of times we found him after he fell, but he never gave up. He didn’t want to retire. He gave it his all.”
Msgr. Michael Mullen, pastor of St. Patrick Parish in Kansas City, Kan., remembers Father Horvat as a friendly person who was eager to work with other Wyandotte Region pastors.
“He was interested in advancing whatever was for the good of the parish and its services to the people,” said Msgr. Mullen.
Father Horvat had an artistic side, said his niece, Barbara Kaufmann, of St. Paul, Minn.
“He had an intellectual side and depth you don’t see in a lot of people, and he was quite an artist,” said Kauffmann. “He began painting landscapes and went into an abstract period, and ended up doing icons.”
More than 30 of his icons, mostly undertaken in the Russian style, were exhibited in August 2001 in the Greenlease Gallery at Rockhurst University in Kansas City, Mo.
“As you reflect upon an icon, you think about the kind of spirituality that the saint invoked,” said Father Horvat in an Aug. 17, 2001, Leaven article. “Artists aren’t supposed to put their own individual feelings into the face of the icon; it is the eyes that draw you in.”
Father Horvat was born on May 26, 1931, the son of Matthew and Barbara Horvat. He was one of 13 children, two of whom died in infancy.
His immigrant parents farmed near Welborn, now part of Kansas City, Kan. They were members of St. John the Baptist Parish, but later became part of Christ the King Parish.
Father Horvat attended Christ the King School, graduated from Bishop Ward High School in 1947, and was a member of the first graduating class of Donnelly College, Kansas City, Kan., in 1950. He served in the U.S. Air Force for two years and spent one year at Rockhurst College in Kansas City, Mo.
He entered the Society of Jesus in 1955, and spent his novitiate and juniorate at St. Stanislaus Seminary in Florissant, Mo. He earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and letters and a master’s degree in philosophy between 1958 and 1961 at St. Louis University.
The future priest taught at St. Stephens High School in St. Stephens, Wyo., and studied theology at the now-closed St. Mary College in St. Marys. He was ordained a Jesuit priest by Archbishop Edward J. Hunkeler on June 9, 1965, in the Chapel of the Immaculata at St. Mary’s College.
Father Horvat was a U.S. Navy chaplain at the Naval Hospital in Philadelphia from 1967 to 1968. He was a chaplain in the First Marine Division, Da Nang, Republic of South Vietnam, from 1968 to 1969. He received an honorable discharge and, shortly after, left the Jesuit order and active ministry.
He married Karen (Nickerson) Horvat in 1971 and they had two children, Sarah and Stephen. They divorced in 1988. He earned a master’s of public health degree from the University of Oklahoma, College of Public Health, in 1974.
In 1996, Father Horvat requested that he be released from the Society of Jesus and incardinated into the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas. This request was accepted and he was appointed pastor of St. Mary-St. Anthony Parish on July 12, 1997.
Father Horvat was preceded in death by his parents; his brothers Joe and Michael; his sisters Mary Thomas, Emily Sercer, Anne Theno and Helen Horvat. He is survived by brothers Father Frank Horvat, pastor of St. John the Baptist Parish in Kansas City, Kan., and John Horvat, Lansing; and sisters Rose Waller in St. Paul, Minn., and Barbara Carroll in Kansas City, Kan. He is also survived by son Stephen and daughter Sarah.
The Mass of Christian Burial for Father Horvat was celebrated by Father Dennis Wait at St. Mary-St. Anthony Parish on Dec. 9. He was then buried with military honors at Leavenworth National Cemetery.