Father Matt: Intriguing Priest, Fisherman, Evolutionary Biologist


Cassi Garrison, Staff Writer, Journalism I

Waukesha native Father Matthew Dougherty O. Praem is a Yale graduate, avid fisherman and evolutionary biologist. 

Dougherty earned his M.S from Yale University in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, a favorite childhood subject of his. He is now working on his doctorate from Yale while ministering at St. Norbert College.

Dougherty has a wide range of intellectual interests and shared that he was driven away from religion in high school because of this.

Dougherty said his parents raised him “very faithfully” and sent him to Catholic elementary and middle schools, but doubt drove him away from religious life in later years. 

“I had a lot of [religious] questions in high school,” Dougherty shared. “I didn’t know what to believe.”

He says that his instructors did not help him in this respect, giving him “fluffy answers” that lacked the intellectual depth that he later learned was there. 

“It felt like religion became something like Barney the Dinosaur,” he joked. “They treated me like a child.”

But when he attended college at St. Norbert, Dougherty encountered students who loved to talk about and defend their faith.  He said they argued constantly. Eventually the others won, and the intellectual became a believer.

Indeed, he started to feel a pull towards priesthood. 

“I began to feel a strong calling at the Christmas mass,” Dougherty said. “[St. Norbert] caused an awakening in me.” 

Throughout college, Dougherty grappled over his career prospects, torn between a path in science and a path of priesthood.

“It was a question: Am I going to become an evolutionary biologist, or am I going to become a priest?” Dougherty reflected. 

He eventually decided to become ordained, which is no little endeavour. 

“It takes six years to become a priest,” Dougherty shared. “That’s longer than it takes to become a medical doctor.”

While Dougherty says that he would have liked to have a family, he does not regret his choice and enjoys his life of priesthood, fishing and intellectual pursuits.

“When you feel called to something, there’s a hesitation, but I think ultimately there’s a great peace,” Dougherty said.