PhD Alumni Spotlight: Matthew R. McWhorter ('11)

PhD Alumni Spotlight: Matthew R. McWhorter ('11)

After earning a B.A. in journalism from the University of Georgia, and returning to school in 2002 to earn a master’s in philosophy at Georgia State University, Matthew R. McWhorter found himself at a crossroads in his academic career: Should he continue on and earn a Ph.D. in philosophy, or should he shift over to theology, a discipline he found himself being drawn to after studying the writings of Augustine and Aquinas?

The Director of Religious Education at McWhorter’s parish offered valuable advice. “He helped me to see,” McWhorter explains, “that while I could continue to conduct research in philosophy as a theologian, the reverse was not necessarily the case.” It is easier for a theologian to pursue philosophical enquiry than it is for a philosopher to take up theology. By Spring 2005, McWhorter was applying to graduate programs in theology across the U.S. and Canada.

After attending a conference on Aquinas and Augustine at Ave Maria University, McWhorter became better acquainted with AMU’s Patrick F. Taylor Graduate Programs in Theology, developed in large part by Fr. Matthew L. Lamb. 

“I was able to discern that Fr. Lamb had developed a theology program which was very rich in philosophical content,” McWhorter recalls. “It was exactly what I was seeking. And I could observe that in general the school was cultivating a spirituality that was very faithful to the Church and to the Catholic intellectual tradition.”

McWhorter began doctoral work in systematic theology at AMU in 2005. His research specialized in those issues of sacred theology that intersect with philosophy, particularly the discipline of philosophical ontology. He wrote his dissertation on Aquinas’ doctrine of creation, “which,” he explains, “[St. Thomas] held not only to be a revealed truth but also, in a distinct sense, properly philosophical.” His research interests have developed over time to include theological methodology, anthropology, and fundamental moral theology—especially moral action theory and moral psychology.

After defending his doctoral dissertation in 2011, McWhorter taught for several years at Holy Spirit College in Atlanta, Georgia, while continuing to teach online for both AMU’s and Catholic Distance University’s distance learning programs. He also taught courses for the diaconate formation program in the Archdiocese of Atlanta.

Recently, McWhorter began a professorship at Divine Mercy University, an outgrowth of the Institute of Psychological Sciences, where he develops courses and conducts research in philosophical and theological anthropology. “I find this work to be very meaningful,” he shares, “in that it transposes the unifying wisdom communicated in the Catholic intellectual tradition into a therapeutic setting.”

For McWhorter, one of the highlights of his time at AMU was how available the professors were to their students. “I had regular theological discussions with many faculty members outside of class…they were always very accessible,” he recalls.

When asked how his time at AMU has shaped him as an individual, both personally and professionally, he responds: “My time at Ave Maria was a very positive period in my life. The overall culture of the institution encourages one to grow in virtue, self-discipline, and committed devotion to Christ. Intellectually, all of the faculty influenced me.” Going on to name a few concrete examples, McWhorter shares: “My memories of my work under Dr. Long continue to exemplify for me what comprises a living Thomism. Overall, my greatest influence was the teaching and model of Fr. Matthew Lamb. His pedagogical emphases…continue to provide an overarching framework for my professional work: everything becomes integrated into the holistic contemplative vision which Fr. Lamb works to cultivate in his students. As a teacher, I aspire to transmit this to my students in turn.”

Offering a final piece of advice for current theology students, McWhorter is insistent on the vital role of prayer in the life of a student of theology. “Always give priority to prayer and to the practice of the sacraments over research and study,” he says. “If one is not grounded in a living relationship with the realities of faith first, one can read the entire Summa theologiae without benefit. It is within a prayerful orientation to God that one is able to grown into the holistic contemplative vision which I mentioned previously. It is from becoming attuned to the living presence of Christ that everything else follows.”

Dr. McWhorter currently resides in Carrollton, Georgia, with his wife and three children.