The Community Development Corp. of Brownsville honored its late founder Monday by christening its education center the Father Armand Mathew Education and Training Room.
Juliet V. Garcia, president of the University of Texas at Brownsville; state Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. D-Brownville; CDCB Executive Director Nick Mitchell-Bennett; CDCB board member Mike Seifert; La Unión del Pueblo Entero Executive Director Juanita Valdez-Cox; and United Way of Southern Cameron County Executive Director Traci Wickett spoke during the brief midday ceremony.
Mathew, an Oblate priest and dedicated community activist who died June 22 at age 90, founded CDCB in 1974 after seeing a profound need for an organization to help city’s low-income families improve their living conditions.
“I was a new priest in Brownsville and I wanted to know the people of the area, not just the Catholics but all the folks of the area,” he once explained.
“So I went out to the far corners of the parish and started knocking on doors. It soon became clear to me that a good number of folks needed a better house more than they needed my Mass schedule.”
Today CDCB is one of the largest non-profit producers of single-family housing in Texas, according to the agency.
Mitchell-Bennett called Mathew “the brains behind the organization” and said the priest had recently gotten involved again with CDCB as a new board member and was having a great time.
“He loved being part of the place,” Mitchell-Bennett said. “He blessed more houses in this town than you can imagine.”
Mitchell-Bennett said he picked the education and training room to bear Mathew’s name because it’s the first stop for would-be homebuyers seeking help through the organization.
“I chose this room because this is where it all starts for our clients,” he said. “This is where they learn what they have to do to buy a new house.”
Mathew always pushed CDCB to help as many clients as possible while at the same time making each one feel like the center of attention, Mitchell-Bennett said.
“That’s how we run this place,” he said.
Garcia traced her friendship with Mathew back to their work helping found Valley Interfaith in the 1980s.
“Because of Father Mathew I learned the power of organizing people around important issues,” she said.
Wickett said Mathew taught that “social justice matters.”
“The thing that strikes me about Armand being gone is he doesn’t feel gone,” Wickett said. “His presence is everywhere and it’s the most stunning thing.”
Lucio read the text of Senate Resolution 137, adopted on the Senate floor June 25 in memory of Mathew, who was ordained as a priest with the Oblates of Mary Immaculate in 1949.
Lucio said Mathew inspired him to fight for issues important to the community, such as children’s welfare and education. The resolution noted Mathew’s belief that “voting was an important step in the struggle to rise from poverty,” a belief that led him to establish, and for years lead, the Center for Civic Engagement at UTB.
Mathew, who also believed that political engagement had to start early in life to take root, also co-founded Kids Voting USA-Brownsville, Lucio noted.
He said Mathew believed in teaching by example, which Lucio called “the true meaning of leadership.”
“He had everything to do with changing hearts,” Lucio said. “He had a great effect obviously on the lives that he touched.”