OCONTO FALLS — Kevin Matthews was a radio personality for 40 years, including what he describes as “one giant, big-big ride” at The Loop (WLUP-AM 1000) in Chicago.
“We were on in 32 states and Canada. We dominated. We were the Rolling Stones of radio. We could do anything we wanted,” he said about the height of his popularity in the Windy City.
His life would take a drastic change thanks to the discovery of a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary near a dumpster outside a flower shop. He now refers to himself as “Mary’s roadie.”
Matthews told his story on April 26 at St. Anthony Church. His talk was part of a series of events in celebration of the 125th anniversary of the parish.
“You are not here to see Kevin Matthews,” he said. “It’s not about me. You are being called. Somebody wanted you to be here at this moment, this time, in this church.”
Matthews’ faith journey began as a child growing up outside of Detroit.
“I’m a little kid. I’m Catholic. There is a war going on inside my house because of alcohol,” he said. “There is a war going on outside with riots because of this place called Vietnam. As a little kid, I remember wanting to go to heaven. God never let go of my hand. I let go of his hand, again, again and again.”
The father of two, Matthews and his wife, Debra, made sure their children received the sacraments. He attended Mass, but was a “weekend warrior,” he said. Matthews justified pulling away from the church because he was able to provide financial support.
“I would do benefits for the church, stuff like that,” he said. “I was a celebrity. I could raise some money.”
Then a key figure entered his life, whose influence is still felt by Matthews today.
“I met this man who is an angel, an Iroquois,” he said. “I love this guy. He became like my dad. We spent a lot of time together.”
Sana Clause, now deceased, was a steelworker from Niagara Falls, N.Y., who helped build the Twin Towers.
“I abandoned the Catholic Church on my own. I’m doing what I want to do. I’m running hot,” said Matthews. “Sana said, ‘Kevin, you have a choice. Either you can be political or you can be spiritual. … I suggest you walk the spiritual path.’ He taught me how to pray. I asked him, ‘Sana, why are you so happy all the time?’ He said, ‘Brother, when I wake up in the morning, I try to outgive God.’”
In the early 2000s, technology changed radio. Matthews recalls being on the air when a Sirius XM ad ran during his show. (Sirius is a satellite and online radio company.) In 2005, he decided to return to his roots and accepted an on-air job in Grand Rapids, Mich. He commuted for two years.
One morning, while on the air, he couldn’t move his hand, but chose not to go to the hospital.
“I had so little care about me,” he said.
Eventually, he saw a neurologist. An MRI of his brain showed a mass the size of a walnut, which was believed to be cancerous. It turned out to be a rare form of multiple sclerosis. The only religious item in his house at the time was a booklet Debra brought back from a trip to Fatima, so Matthews carried it in his pocket,
“It was comforting. I would take this book with me everywhere I would go,” he said.
Following treatment in Chicago, Matthews had an appointment with an attorney. He needed to take an indirect route to avoid the St. Patrick’s Day parade and said he heard a voice telling him to “go to the cemetery.” So he drove to Our Lady Queen of Heaven Cemetery in Hillside and approached the large crucifix at the cemetery.
“I put my hand on the feet of Jesus and I said, ‘Jesus, I am so afraid.’ I’m all by myself. My life is on the rocks. ‘Jesus, I’m afraid. Help me.’ Suddenly, water starts coming down on my hand,” he said. “There’s not a cloud in the sky. I move my hand. I could not do this (previously).”
But Matthews said the healing still didn’t bring him fully back to God.
Two years later, after just signing a five-year contract in Grand Rapids, he was fired. The next day, while driving, he said that he heard a voice telling him to buy his wife flowers.
While walking towards the door, he noticed a statue of Mary on the ground. The statue was broken at the waist and her hands were missing. He said that he heard another voice that asked him, “Will you deny me? Will you deny my mother?”
He entered the store and offered to buy the statue. He was told it was not for sale. Matthews negotiated.
“I thought, ‘I will steal it,’” he said, drawing laughs. “Then I just said, ‘Help me God. There are nuns that live out here. I will donate money in your name if you give me the statue.”
The store owner accepted his donation request, so he loaded “Broken Mary” in his truck.
A friend, Fr. Mark Przybysz, pastor of St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Grand Rapids, connected Matthews with a monument maker to explore repairing the statue. He told Matthews that he could “make her brand new.”
“That was the first time in my life when I broke down and cried,” he said. “I’m crying in front of a complete stranger. … I said, ‘No, I don’t want her fixed. She’s broken like me. I want to keep her broken.’”
Matthews returned to attending Mass regularly, made a confession, the first since childhood, and learned to recite the rosary. Fr. Przybysz encouraged him to write a book and connected him with Franciscan Sr. Lucia Treanor, a writing professor at Grand Valley State University in Township, Mich. She was reluctant at first, due to her familiarity with Matthews’ past career. “Broken Mary, A Journey of Hope” was published in 2016 by Dynamic Catholic.
Matthews has also created a rosary app, which is available for free at brokenmary.com.
The “Broken Mary” statue was placed on the altar at St. Anthony Church for Mass, which preceded Matthews’ presentation. She has accompanied people in hospice care, emergency rooms and in prisons. In 2019, the statue was carried in a mile and a half walk down Chicago Avenue, in Chicago, that attracted 8,000 people.
“This woman went from a dumpster to a bed of roses,” said Matthews.
“God calls me to a dumpster,” he added. “Looking back, it was Jesus saying, ‘I’m going to leave you with my mother. She’s going to clean you up.’”