By Jerry Duggan
As director of admissions at Jesuit High School in Tampa, Steve Matesich is often the first point of contact families have at the school – and usually their first encounter with anything “Jesuit.” He takes that responsibility very seriously and finds his work tremendously meaningful.
“My job isn’t being a salesman – it’s about introducing our families to Jesuit education and showing them what makes it so special,” he said.
Matesich doesn’t have to dig deep to provide prospective families with an authentic testimonial to the power of Jesuit education because he lived it himself.
“I remember Jesuit doing a presentation at my school in 8th grade and thinking to myself: that is the last high school I want to go to,” he laughed as he recalled. “I couldn’t wrap my 14-year-old mind around going to an all-boys high school.”
Once he set foot on campus, his opinion quickly changed.
“I still remember how impressed I was with how goal-oriented and self-motivated the students were,” he said. “It really made me pick my game up.”
After attending the University of South Florida, Matesich held down jobs in public relations/media relations and worked at a recruiting company. In time, he found himself hoping to return to his alma mater in some capacity. First, he coached the school’s freshman basketball team. That work awakened in him the desire to enter the field of education full-time.
“Working with freshmen in particular, seeing them grow throughout the year, get increasingly more comfortable and confident as they transitioned into high school and accompanying them through the ups and downs was something that I got a great deal of satisfaction from,” he said.
In 2003, he got a call from the local Bishop, asking if he would be interested in directing the admissions department at a brand-new Catholic high school in the area. This was a can’t-miss opportunity that he accepted. A few years later, he received a call from Jesuit, asking if he wanted to “come home” and be the first director of admissions in school history.
Fifteen years later, Matesich is still fulfilled by his work, which starts with showing prospective families the daily convocation in the school’s chapel.
“It’s important our families know the importance we place on prayer and spiritual growth, because that’s one of the things that sets a Jesuit education apart,” he explained.
He then guides them on a campus tour and classroom visits.
Afternoons are spent giving presentations on Jesuit at feeder schools throughout greater Tampa, and the remaining hours of the day spent attending Jesuit school events and recruiting for its Summer Bridge program – which is for local, high-achieving middle school students with high potential from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds. It provides an opportunity for them to experience Jesuit High School for several weeks in the summer. Many Summer Bridge alumni end up matriculating to Jesuit for high school, helping the school to develop a diverse, well-rounded student body.
An additional challenge is reading the applications of many qualified applicants – many more than Jesuit can accept in a given year.
“It’s a good problem to have, but we receive many more applications than we can accept,” he said. “We have grown tremendously in the past decade but must remain small enough that we can make our education personalized to each student and, most practically, so that we can all fit in the Chapel every day for our morning Convocation,” he said.
While his days are long and responsibilities many, it all comes full circle for Matesich on graduation day.
“I get to know these young men as 12-, 13- and 14-year-olds, and to see them develop during their time here and walk across that graduation stage four years later as men, ready to go out to serve and impact the world – it brings tears to my eyes every year. To be the one who starts that process and then sees that growth into well-rounded men for others is an incredible feeling and is a testament to why Jesuit education has withstood the test time all around the world for centuries.”