A highly regarded man no longer walks its halls, but the one who now sits in his office brings an abiding personal faith, first-class academics and a rich multicultural background to Divine Word College. Mathew Kanjirathinkal, Ph.D, is the new Vice President for Academic Affairs following the retirement of J. Russett, Ed.D., who left the post at the end of 2009.
"The work of Divine Word College is extremely relevant, timely and much needed, more than at any time I think in the history of the Western World. I’d like to be part of that," Mathew said. "The SVDs, in many ways, have provided leadership in bringing cultural understanding, inter-faith dialog and people together, more than many other religious congregations or orders that I know of."
Born in a region that contains a strong Catholic presence in the predominantly Hindu nation of India, Mathew studied for a time in Germany before immigrating to the United States in 1976. He earned his masters degree from Western Michigan University, and later attended the University of Notre Dame, where he received his Ph.D. in sociology. He served as Dean of Graduate Studies at Texas A&M University-Commerce, near Dallas. Later he held that same position, along with teaching sociology, at Park University outside Kansas City, Missouri before coming to Divine Word.
Mathew decided that rather than climb the traditional ladder of administrative posts, he’d prefer to apply his skills and talents to work that would be more meaningful to him.
"I am a strong Catholic. I believe in the work of Divine Word College, preparing future priests and leaders for the Church and especially for the work of the SVDs," he said, having been familiar with the work of the order during his early life in India.
Mathew observed that, economically, the world has shrunk to the size of a village, but socially it is moving apart in cultural understanding, faith-related issues and dialog. Despite all the efforts around the world to counteract a pervasive tendency toward intolerance, more has to be done to bring people of different cultures together. Though economic development is very important, especially in Third World countries, there is a need for the Church to show leadership in the area of understanding, multi-culturalism and dialog.
"I think that is where the work of the SVDs and Divine Word College is extremely relevant and meaningful," Mathew said.
Fr. Mike Hutchins, president of Divine Word, said he was pleased that Mathew has joined the college community.
"He brings valuable background and experience to his position as Vice President for Academic Affairs. These include his early seminary formation as a Jesuit scholastic, his professional training in counseling, his doctorate in sociology from Notre Dame University, and his several years of higher education administration," Fr. Mike said. "He also enriches our DWC cross-cultural environment with his Indian heritage. This rich combination of assets is important at this important moment in the college’s history. We look forward to his leadership and contributions to our DWC programs."
Mathew’s move to Epworth, Iowa was not without sacrifice. His wife of 28 years, Becki, along with their 16-year old daughter Kate, remain in their home north of Kansas City, in St. Joseph, Missouri. The couple decided it would be too hard on their daughter, a junior, to move while still in high school. So Mathew will call the guest accommodations on the third floor of the college’s main building "home" for the next couple of years, while he commutes every few weeks to rejoin the two women in his life. On the upside, he lives close to work.
"And the commute is easy," he said with a smile.