Karl Mattson was born in East Orange, N.J., and settled in Rock Island, Ill. as a teenager, later graduating from Augustana College and Augustana Seminary (now the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago). After meeting his wife Marge, the pair moved to Buffalo, where they started a mission congregation.
From there the Mattsons moved to Yale, where he earned a Masters in Sacred Theology, and then to Brooklyn, where his attentions focused on forging a ministry that bridged the traditional Swedish congregation and the neighboring Hispanic community. Mattson’s ministry was in the forefront of transitioning urban churches, providing neighborhood outreach to the largely Puerto Rican community in which his church was located. Tutoring programs, street theater, after school activities for kids, and more filled his days.
For three years, Mattson put the ministry aside, and worked jackhammer construction in New York City and studied anthropology and cinema at NYU before moving back to Chicago’s South Side, plunging once again into the life of the inner city ministry.
In 1979, he accepted the position as College Chaplain at Gettysburg College. Week after week he graced the campus community with thoughtful sermons and inspiring prayers. He introduced countless people to the joy of service learning and to the centrality of social justice. He put a human face on issues of civil rights and intercultural understanding.
He was instrumental in bringing Habitat for Humanity to Gettysburg and in initiating an annual celebration of Martin Luther King’s birthday. He was the founding spirit behind Project Gettysburg/Leon, a sister city project which has taken many Gettysburgians to Nicaragua. He founded the College’s Center for Public Service in 1992 and left the College with a legacy of projects and relationships that will continue to mold and enhance the college experience for students and faculty alike.
In 2012, Karl Mattson received an honor Doctor of Divinity degree from Gettysburg College.