Pastor Hopes To Help Congregation Heal

Matthew Gunia has taken the helm of St. John Lutheran Church, which is going through a healing process after the shock of its former young pastor's death.


Matthew Gunia, 35,  arrived five weeks ago as pastor of in Niles. The circumstances were delicate, as he took over from an interim minister who came to help out after the unexpected death of the former young pastor.

Gunia chatted with Niles Patch, and our questions are in bold type. 

Q. At what point did you get the idea you wanted to go into the ministry?

It’s something a lot of people had suggested throughtout the years but I never gave it any serious thought until my girlfriend at the time—who became my wife--suggested it. I went and talked to the seminary recruiter and said never in a million years am I going to do this.

They gave me some materials, I figured the least I could do is read it, and the job seemed to fit my personality and what I wanted out of life, so 24 hours after I got it, I found myself filling out the paperwork.

Hindsight is 20/20.  I made the decision, I never regretted it. I really enjoy my job a lot.

Q. You are taking over as the first permanent-assignment pastor since the death of the former pastor, Darin Berg. It must have been very hard for the congregation to deal with the news of his suicide in 2010. 

There was pastor Stan Harding, who was the interim pastor.

It was shocking and sudden, the death of my predecessor. Once the congregation worked through the process, they were ready to move on.


His (the late Pastor Berg's) wife and children lived in the parsonage until this past February. Now she is remarried. I don’t know much about her husband.  She’s moving on with her life.

Q. How do you see your role?

I like to let the congregation decide.

I visit the sick and the dying and the healthy as well, I administer the sacraments, I’m present and accounted for-- I like to roll up my sleeves and lend a hand.

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I knew the circumstances that led to the vacancy, and it seemed like what I have is what they needed.

Q. What were your assignments before?

I’m in my seventh year of pastoral ministry. My first one was in Burr Ridge, at a congregation with three pastors and a school.

My second job was as pastor for two small congregations in partnership with each other, in Westchester and Lyons. 

Q. What’s happening with St. John’s property?

We’re renting out to St. Bernadette’s School. They’re vacating the building at the end of this month. They were down to two students, I don’t think it was financially feasible for them to keep it in operation.

We had talked about a couple ideas; one is to start our own food pantry. Some people would like to start a preschool/kindergarten/daycare.

Niles Park District runs a basketball clinic out of the gym.

Q. Where were you born and raised?

The Northwest side of Chicago, around Irving Park and Addison. I went to school at Messiah Lutheran, at Narragansett and Addison, and Luther North for high school.

Q. Where did you go to college and seminary?

Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago. College was never on the radar. My dad’s a Chicago firefighter and that’s what I wanted to do but things didn’t work out that way.

At Northeastern I double majored in secondary education and history, and I taught for a couple years before going to seminary--Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, Mo. It’s a four-year program--three years of classroom work and one year of internship called a vicarage.

Q. What else do you like to do in life?

Spend time with my family. I’m coming up on nine years of marriage to my wife Kathy.

Our kids are Joey, who's about to turn 3, and Colette, who's one and a half. They’re a lot of fun.

I just finished up my second marathon, so I like long distance running. I get together socially with other pastors in my denomination, and it’s helpful for us to get together and let our hair down.

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