After trying out careers as a police officer and investment counselor, Matthew Peterson finally found his calling and dedicated his life to the Schaumburg church in which he grew up.
Yet, Peterson had no idea just how short his time would be when he returned in August 2009 as vicar at St. Peter Lutheran Church, where he had been a member since 1984.
Shortly thereafter, Peterson was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a cancer affecting the bone marrow. After a two-year battle, the 41-year-old youth pastor succumbed to the disease early Thursday morning.
Lutheran Church Charities' K-9 Comfort Dogs were at St. Peter Lutheran School Thursday afternoon to help students cope with Peterson's death.
Peterson was beloved in the church community and had a way with youth, said the Rev. David Hudak, senior pastor at St. Peter.
"He would win them over in terms of being able to talk to them about the Lord," Hudak said. "He had this outgoing personality that was just very appealing, so we decided as a congregation to actually extend the position to him."
It's uncommon for new pastors to return to their home church after completing seminary education, Hudak added.
Peterson's parents, Bruce and Lynne Peterson, are active members of the congregation and longtime Schaumburg residents.
A 1988 graduate of Conant High School in Hoffman Estates, Peterson later earned a bachelor of science degree in law enforcement administration from Western Illinois University.
After completing police academy training, he served six months with the Glen Ellyn Police Department before deciding it just wasn't for him, said his mother, a former Schaumburg village trustee and current fire and police commissioner.
Peterson then worked for a subprime mortgage company until May 2006, when he began studying theology at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis. He earned his master's degree in divinity in May 2010.
"He was doing a lot of things that he didn't like, and he found this, and this was just perfect for him," Lynne Peterson said. "He was excited to be a pastor. It was easy for him to put himself and his illness on the back burner and focus on what he wanted to do."
But the illness slowly took over.
Not wanting to uproot his family or disrupt his two daughters' schooling at St. Peter, Peterson traveled to Little Rock, Ark., frequently over the past year to get treatment at the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute, which specializes in his type of cancer.
In late September, the family decided it was time for Peterson to come home, Lynne Peterson said.
"The test results just weren't showing any improvement," she said. "The disease was kind of running rampant. He definitely was not giving up. They were hoping that there might be a little more time to explore treatment here."
Peterson is survived by his wife, Janet, and two daughters, Elissa, 13, and Sara, 9.
Visitation will be held from 2 to 9 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 13 at St. Peter Lutheran Church, 202 E. Schaumburg Road. Funeral services will be at 11 a.m. Monday, Nov. 14, preceded by visitation at 10 a.m. at the church. Burial will be at St. Peter Cemetery.
Church officials are holding a fundraiser from 11:45 a.m. to 2 p.m. Nov. 19 at Outback Steakhouse, 216 E. Golf Road in Schaumburg, to help the Peterson family with medical bills and future expenses. Tickets are available at the church office for $50 and $100. Call (847) 885-3350.
Donations may be made to the Peterson Family Fund at https://lcc.ccbchurch.com/w_form_response.php?form_id=652.