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Torero for Life: The Immaculata's Father Matthew Spahr

Torero for Life: The Immaculata's Father Matthew Spahr

A Torero for Life. It’s a common phrase heard when graduating students are reminded that gaining a degree from the University of San Diego is more than just a four-year mark of time.

Today, there are more than 65,000 Torero graduates worldwide and they’re part of an ever-growing USD family. As alumni they comprise a chapter in USD’s story. Fewer, though, are connected to the campus prior to their arrival as students. Most would say that the “Torero for Life” moniker is reserved for the university’s late co-founders, Bishop Charles Francis Buddy and Mother Rosalie Clifton Hill. Their vision and desire to build a Catholic university in San Diego was founded in 1949 and when the first San Diego College of Women class occurred in February 1952.

Lifelong Connection

But one person who can honestly say his life has been “forever” connected to the university — and not surprisingly, right at its core — is Father Matthew D. Spahr, a 1983 USD alumnus and pastor at The Immaculata Church since 2003. Spahr, who doubles as the Catholic Diocese of San Diego’s director of the Office for Priestly Formation, was baptized at The Immaculata in 1960 within the first year of his life.

“Both personally and from a faith standpoint, The Immaculata is so bound up in my faith life,” says Spahr, a native of nearby Clairemont. “It really symbolizes my life of faith and all of the people who have been part of it. To come here every day … The Immaculata is an image of the beauty of faith that has nurtured me. And I have this incredible privilege and responsibility to nurture the faith of other people by being here and serving here.”

Spahr’s relationship with the 57-year-old The Immaculata, an iconic photography magnet for campus tour visitors and a faraway spectacle for freeway passersby or from ships and airplanes, has been something to cherish.

The youngest of five children, Spahr’s family regularly went to mass at The Immaculata. He attended Catholic elementary school at Saint Mary Magdalene’s School of the Madeleine, then University of San Diego High School which was located across the street from USD. He went to UC San Diego his freshman year of college, but transferred to USD as he got serious about becoming a priest. He studied philosophy and sociology and attended mass at both The Immaculata and Founders Chapel.

“USD has been very much a part of my vocation to be in the priesthood,” he said. Even when graduate studies took him to Rome’s North American College, Spahr attended the same institution as Bishop Buddy once had.

“I’m sure most of the design and art of The Immaculata was based on what he’d seen in Rome and what he was trying to achieve here,” Spahr said.

Spahr was ordained as a priest in The Immaculata in 1992. Following short associate pastor stints at St. Michael’s Catholic Church in Paradise Hills and Pacific Beach’s St. Brigid Catholic Church, his first opportunity as pastor came in 1996 at the then-tiny Queen of Angels Church in Alpine. Spahr’s ascension to pastor of The Immaculata in July 2003 was an emotional thrill and, literally, visibly large.

“One of the striking things was the distance between the altar and the first pew in The Immaculata. It was the same as the whole length of Queen of Angels,” he recalled.

Major Responsibilities

Sizable duties are not uncommon for Spahr, now in his 13th year as pastor and the Diocese’s director of priestly formation.

“It’s been a great source of inspiration to see great men who are so good, who desire to know God’s will in their life and are called to be priests. These men come from many different backgrounds and life experiences and I have this unique view of seeing these guys come in fresh, watch them mature and grow, go through the educational process and become competent. I stand in awe sometimes.”

Spahr presides over a daily 8 a.m. mass regularly attended by USD faculty, staff and students and Sunday’s 9 and 11 a.m. masses. Outside of mass, he handles a bevy of services for parishioners and the community. USD, while having the Founders Chapel for its daily and special Wednesday and Sunday night masses, utilizes The Immaculata for a few events such as the annual September fall semester-welcoming Mass of the Holy Spirit and each December, the Our Lady of Guadalupe Mass.

Happy Together

Spahr attended both venues as a student and finds it a blessing to have both available to the university community. “I think the university is blessed to have two really beautiful, remarkable places of worship. While students are probably more familiar worshiping at Founders Chapel, there’s always been a natural connection to The Immaculata. People are drawn here. Students are drawn here. It’s an enrichment for the university and the Diocese to have both. The Immaculata is a functioning parish church and I think it’s a great gift, an asset, to the university to have the folks who make up our parish in a tangible way, be a part of the university’s life.”

The Immaculata is special. Visibly, it fits Mother Hill’s observation that beauty is a natural draw. Spahr sees it from his presider’s chair. “I’ll watch people go across the plaza stop and come in. They’re drawn in. I can always tell when new people are here because they’re always looking around at everything. It makes me smile to see that.”

Providing a welcoming environment in The Immaculata for everyone is important — and Spahr is living proof.

“I often think about it when I’m baptizing babies here. ‘What will this baby grow up to be?’ I never could have imagined that I’d be pastor of The Immaculata. I am so grateful to be here.”

— Ryan T. Blystone

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San Diego, CA 92110

Phone: (619) 260-4724
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