UNION, NJ – Tributes and remembrances of Phil Matrale, the beloved youth minister at St. Michael’s Parish who died suddenly on Nov. 20, continue to be shared by the Union residents whose lives he touched and enriched. Matrale, 60, was youth minister at St. Michael’s for over 30 years. He also served as youth minister at Union’s Holy Spirit Church.
“I was lucky enough to meet Phil at CYO when I was 15,” said Anita Laverty. “My friends and I were proud to be in the “God Squad” with him. Back then Phil taught us to be kind, help those less fortunate and taught us that God always has a plan.” Laverty said thirty years later she walked into the lower Church with my four kids for their first day of VBS. “I was greeted with Phil’s vibrant smile and a tight hug,” she said. “The man never aged. We caught up on each other’s lives, and I knew my kids were in good hands. Phil worked his magic with episodes of Veggie-tales, crafts and valuable lessons disguised as songs they will never forget.”
“My daughter loved going on her first CYO retreat last year,” added Laverty. “I felt she came home with a deeper appreciation for all she has in her life. She realized she had a safe place to express her faith and fears with people that shared similar values.
The foundation of faith that Phil and CYO helped me build as a teen is what allows me to believe that Phil’s new office is in “My Father’s House”, a quote from one of those unforgettable VBS songs I mentioned earlier.”
“God STILL has a plan,” said Laverty. “Even with his untimely passing, Phil is bringing people together to help continue his work to make this world a better place.
If ever there was a hometown hero and an angel among us, it was Phil Matrale. May he rest in eternal peace.”
“I was 17 when we met,” said Tim Dolan. “He shaped me to make me who I am today. He was truly a role model to make me a better person.”
“Phil Matrale was a man of incredible faith and love who dedicated his life to helping countless others,” said Colleen Shanahan. “I was honored to know Phil and was lucky to have him as a mentor and friend.” She said hrough their time together he was able to teach her about God, faith, morality, compassion, and love . “This is something I will always cherish.”
Shanahan said she looked forward to Tuesday night CYO. “Phil shared so much wisdom and did it in a way that he was able to reach all of us. I also enjoyed our community service outreaches and being able to help those around us. I loved the retreats and was lucky enough to be chosen to give a speech my Senior year. While I struggled writing a personal speech about my relationship with Jesus, he helped me the entire way. He spent countless hours helping me and after I delivered it I remember the look of pride on his face. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but I will forever be grateful for that amazing experience.”
Shanahan said she will never forget their trip to Steubenville. She said shortly after arrival most participants wanted to go home. Sleeping outside, in massive tents and extreme heat was not something most of them were prepared for. “Typical Phil made the best of it and we all ended up with an unforgettable weekend. We brought back many memories and the renowned “Big House”.”
“While there are so many memories I have,” added Shanahan, “one of the most profound was actually a fight we had. While I can’t remember exactly what the fight was over, I remember it was him pushing me to be a better version of myself. I can be stubborn and indignant and nearly impossible to deal with when angry. Knowing this and in his amazing way, Phil brought his care, kindness, and love and we worked it out. From this fight we emerged as “best friends”. Phil would always say ‘Colleen, my best friend’, and I followed suit by referring to him as ‘Phil, my best friend’. While this may seem trivial, it was a superlative I was lucky to have and something that always resonated with me. Phil, my best friend, thank you for being an angel on earth. You made countless lives better through your love, especially mine. I am so blessed to have known you and can’t wait until we meet again.”
“Phil was only 60 years old, but those 60 years were packed with goodness,” said St. Michael's Pastor Emeritus Rev. Charles B. [Fr. Chuck] McDermott at Tuesday night’s Township Committee Meeting.
“Why am I speaking about Phil at a civic meeting?” asked Fr. Chuck. “Because Phil was easily one of the most civic people here in town.”
Recounting the beginnings of St. Michael’s youth ministry many years ago, Fr. Chuck said Matrale thought there was nothing strong and helpful for the young people in town. “Here in Union, where the original motto was “What Helps Youth, Helps Union,” Phil thought we needed to do something,” said Fr. Chuck. “He wanted to start a youth group.”
When the youth group began, said Fr. Chuck, only about 30 young people joined. “Over the years, and very quickly, because of his magnetic personality and goodness, that group of young people grew to be between 300-400 every single week.”
“All those young people influenced by Phil made a difference,” said Fr. Chuck. “Think of the thousands, literally thousands, of young people in this town who were influenced for goodness through Phil’s work,” said Fr. Chuck. “Please, especially at this time of year, pray for his family.”
“From the Township Committee members and myself,” said Mayor Michele Delisfort, “we express our condolences to the Matrale family. He will be missed.”
“Phil Matrale was an amazing man,” said Nancy Zuena. “Actually one of a kind . He has touched the heart of every single person in my household in such a different but very special way.” Zuena said her oldest son Michael was able to serve as President his senior year of youth group. “Now at 25 he still shows up every Tuesday night to participate.” She said her younger two children (Nick and Gio) also participated in CYO, “a place to talk about life and get guidance from peers.”
“Phil always saw the good in everyone and every situation,” added Zuena. “He would help anyone work through any issue or problem they were having . Imagine a church youth group with a group of 200 plus voluntarily showing up weekly. It was a given if Phil asked for your help. It was a given you showed up. Phil was a true leader. A hero to many. Heaven has gained a very special angel.”
“I have never met anyone quite like Phil Matrale,” said Megan Pires. “Anyone who knew him is feeling a huge loss right now. Everyone who came in contact with him was positively impacted by his kindness, understanding and wisdom. He was a selfless man who spent his life helping others...to find and trust God, to see their own greatness, to live a good and righteous life; the list goes on.”
“It is too hard to comprehend why God has chosen to take him home so early, as it leaves a huge void here on earth,” said Pires. “But Phil would want me to trust my faith and know that there’s a reason for God’s plan, so I will.”
Pires said being a part of Matrale’s youth organization helped to shape her into the person she is today. “Phil helped teach me what it meant to be a good Christian, but more importantly, he taught me how to be a good person; to do for others, help those less fortunate, to lead by example. I have nothing but fond memories of my time in CYO, and on the Core Team. It played such a pivotal role in my life. I still consider my speech at my senior CYO retreat to be one of the greatest accomplishments of my life. And that moment would have never been possible without Phil as a mentor.” Pires added that Matrale’s patience, motivation, and emotional support helped her through months of writing the “most gut wrenching and emotionally raw words I have ever shared with anyone. I still remember his face and the words of encouragement he shared with me after I delivered it, and the immense sense of pride I felt when he told me. ‘I hit the nail right in the head.’ That confidence and drive was something I took with me when my time in CYO had sadly come to an end.”
“Phil gave me so much and it saddens me to think that he is no longer here to be that mentor for future CYO members,” added Pires, “but I take solace in the fact that he is home with the Lord in that “Great Big House.” Until we meet again my friend.”
"I’ve known Phil since I was little," said Isabella Espana. "He’s always been a huge factor in my journey of faith- from Vacation Bible School, to religion class at St. Michaels, and of course, CYO. Last year, I was lucky enough to be Co-President alongside Justin Novoa, and one of the ten speech givers on our annual youth retreat. Although our year was cut short because of the pandemic, it was one of the most fulfilling experiences of my life. Last year’s retreat theme was “Parachute!” and Phil truly is CYO’s parachute. He’s taught us how to love, how to forgive, and how to be true children of God. He’s always there to give the best advice, and everything he said always seemed to come right when we needed it. He never failed to remind us of everything we are capable of pushed us to be the best versions of ourselves."
"I am truly grateful to have had Phil in my life for such a long time," added Espana. "He made CYO my second family, and I am so thankful to have so much love and support because of them. I know he’s here with us, watching over us, and doing what he does best- bringing people together and making us stronger through our faith. His legacy will live as long as CYO lives in our hearts, and we will continue the work he has left for us."
"Phil Matrale made each and every single person he met feel like they had a purpose," said Justin Novoa. "He had a genuine care for everyone he met and only saw the best in them. All throughout high school I had the privilege to be a part of the core team for Phil’s CYO youth group, and eventually become one of the co-presidents my senior year. In my four years, Phil helped me strengthen and grow my faith. He taught me and many others valuable lessons that I will remember my entire life. Phil’s impact on my life is just one of many and I will forever be grateful for him."
"I think the huge outpouring of love and the countless posts about how much Phil impacted people's lives is the ultimate testament to a "life well lived", said Andrea Gavejian. "He was the best of us all and his memory will carry on in his family, friends and anyone fortunate enough to ever spend time with him."
“Legendary people are the ones who don’t disappoint when you meet them in person”(Quora.com)Such a man, I believe, was Phil Matrale. As Youth Minister at St. Michael’s Church in Union he taught, lived and shared unselfishly his solid Christian faith and values with teens, families ,throughout Union and beyond .His extraordinary ability to understand each teens need for belonging, for non judgemental acceptance and encouragement endeared him to High Schoolers in Union Twp, and Parochial Schools throughout the County . Unionites from 14 to 50 have been impacted by his death and blessed by having known Phil. They have shared their grief leaning on each other offering gratitude to his family for sharing him with our community.
"For more than thirty years, as seasons passed ,parent chaperones vied for space to participate in the many CYO social events, trips and dances where they formed lasting bonds with each other which continue today," said Isabel Jean Perkins. "They, as I, felt that Phil’s programs provided a safe, solid positive place for their children to congregate, have fun and receive help as they emerged and explored who they are and how to be in this world as Christians. As this tragic news has circulated, CYO Alumni recall fondly that these memories form the basis of what still guides them as they have become parents."
"Community service and social outreach as well as personal responsibility were the hallmarks of the many topic nights and annual retreats where more than 150 teens gathered for years," said Perkins. "There is a hole in our lives, and a sadness in our hearts but a firm belief that God is Love and that He shared that love with us in the person of Phil Matrale, a legend."
Services for Matrale will be as follows:
UPDATE: All who wish to attend the wake, must sign up via this website: www.bradleyfuneralhomes.com for reservations, additional information and donations. EventBrite reservations have been canceled.