- Matthew Eleweke '12 - Co-Founder & CEO of Sympl.
- Fr. Mike Palmer, CSC '07 - Congregation of Holy Cross & U.S. Army Chaplain Corps.
If you asked Matthew Eleweke ’12 where he saw himself in five years after graduating from The High, he’d tell you a college graduate and gainfully employed in the marketing or advertising industry.
Well fast forward to reality and Eleweke is a college graduate, holding a degree from Michigan State University, but his job today is as CEO and Co-Founder of the Sympl. Mobile App.
"We are a mobile app right now, but we're bigger than that,” said Eleweke. “We'd like to be viewed as a social cause that promotes effective communication within classes for students. Our main focus is to provide the necessary resources for students to reach their academic potential."
The idea for Sympl. came to Eleweke and his Spartan football teammate Mark Meyers while sophomores in East Lansing. Inspired by the Spartan App that allows MSU students to view such things as bus schedules and stops to what the cafeterias are serving on a given day, the two saw an opportunity in the app as a more useful educational tool.
“When I transferred back to MSU, everyone would ask me what classes I had, which sections I was in, what teacher I have,” Eleweke shared. “I found myself sending the same message to multiple people. I knew there had to be a way to make one schedule, one message and be able to send it out to all my contacts. That’s where the current version of the app stemmed from.”
After transferring to Eastern Illinois to play out his football career, Eleweke came back to Michigan State with a new focus in mind.
“It wasn’t until I transferred back to MSU my senior year of college and wasn’t playing football that I really began to focus on academics,” said Eleweke. “There came a point, though, I had to accept the fact I needed to fill my day with something productive. I went back to my old notebook where we first started the app and began refining it. I began tapping into my resources and enlisting help to see my vision for it.”
After a beta testing stage that included more than 300 students at MSU using the app, Eleweke and his team began gaining some traction. They met with MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon and earned a trip to Austin, Texas, to the SXSW Trade Show to represent Michigan State.
“She (Simon) loved it and expressed a need for it on Michigan State’s campus,” Eleweke said. “That was a big accomplishment for us. We have been able to represent Michigan State at the SXSW Trade Show in Austin, Texas, this past March. That really boosted our exposure. Being in a tech trade show with all sorts of people, companies and schools - it gave us the exposure we needed. Things really started to take off from there. We went to another conference in New Orleans after where we were able to connect with even more university administrators.”
Eleweke said Sympl. currently is focusing on three schools — MSU, the University of Texas and Arizona State. He said they also have made connections with 20-plus universities, including schools in Australia, Zambia and Ireland.
“When I was at U of D, I wasn’t thinking about apps or being a CEO,” explained the 2012 UDJ grad. “I wasn’t looking at the tech market. I was just looking at getting my school work done, playing football or basketball depending on the season and going on to college.”
Eleweke kept his mind open after leaving the halls of The High and utilized the teachings and preparation he gained while a Cub.
"One thing I learned in the entrepreneur process is rough times will happen and come, but on the other end are the greatest successes.”
- Eleweke Advice to Current Cubs
“The work itself was not difficult,” Eleweke said. “It was a transition from a high school workload with a dedicated teacher that is on you if you don’t do your work to college where there is more freedom and autonomy. U of D Jesuit prepared me, though, to be able to handle the work.
“Jesuit education is really learning about yourself. Being able to work with others and recognize everyone has something to bring to the table. You meet all different types of people at UDJ. You have people that live far away with a different upbringing than you, but at U of D Jesuit, everyone clicked and could work together. You don’t always get that same luxury at other schools. A Jesuit education provides students the opportunity to meet others of different backgrounds and learn to work together.”
After time as a college student-athlete in the Big Ten Conference and as an entrepreneur in the tech industry, Eleweke’s biggest word of advice to current Cubs is to not be afraid to talk with people.
“The biggest thing to help you is to stick with it and talk to people,” proclaimed Eleweke. “Make sure you network. I had nothing but an idea. I had no money. You need attorneys to start a business, and I had no knowledge or experience with that. It took me putting my idea out there and asking friends, teachers and counselors. Coming out of UDJ, don’t be afraid to talk to people. People will want to help you. Just don’t give up. One thing I learned in the entrepreneur process is rough times will happen and come, but on the other end are the greatest successes.”
For a span of nearly two decades, there has been a Palmer brother walking the halls of The High. This past graduation saw the last of this generation of Cubs, Brian Palmer ‘17, walk across the stage at Greater Grace Temple. This event brought home members of a family who, since their time at U of D Jesuit, have gone on to travel the world, defend our freedoms, and serve as spiritual leaders.
Mike Palmer ’07 has made it his mission to serve as all three of those roles. Just this past April, he became Fr. Mike Palmer of the Congregation of Holy Cross.
“It started back in my sophomore year at U of D Jesuit,” explained Fr. Palmer. “When I was getting ready to visit Notre Dame on a college visit, a priest at my home parish told me about the religious order of Holy Cross, which I didn’t know existed at the time. He suggested I visit their seminary at Notre Dame, and I immediately felt right at home! Community and brotherhood were huge emphases at U of D Jesuit and Shrine, and this was also the case in Holy Cross. One of our driving pillars is community, so that was attractive for me and drew me into thinking about the priesthood seriously.”
Fr. Palmer’s journey to ordination has been anything but ordinary. After joining the seminary in 2007, he graduated from Notre Dame in 2011 and began his graduate studies at Moreau Seminary (Notre Dame, Indiana) in 2012. When his superiors asked him if he was considering a special ministry, he took off on a path less traveled.
“I have so many relatives in the military, and I kept hearing from them that there are so few Catholic priests and chaplains,” said Fr. Palmer. “There is a huge need for spiritual support, especially for Catholics.”
Unsure about whether this ministry was even possible, Fr. Palmer asked his seminary staff about joining the Army Chaplain Corps.
“I wasn’t sure what they would say, but I discovered that the Congregation of Holy Cross has had chaplains in the military since the Civil War,” Fr. Palmer shared. “Fr. [William] Corby, CSC, is actually the only civilian to have his own statue on the battlefield at Gettysburg; it depicts him giving absolution to the Union troops. The seminary staff said I was the first seminarian in three or four decades to pursue this, but they would support me if I was willing to put in the work. It is a need, and we are called to go where God needs us. I feel this is something God is calling me to do.”
Fr. Palmer shipped out to Ft. Jackson in South Carolina in June of 2015 for Army Chaplain school, still just a seminarian.
“That was an incredible experience for a number of reasons,” explained Fr. Palmer. “I had never had
Army experience, and they certainly train you hard core. I was one of 80-90 chaplains there, all of different backgrounds, age groups and faiths. Of 80-90 people, I was one of only four Catholics - I was the lone seminarian, as the others were priests.
“That summer was a great learning experience. I got to be great friends with people that weren’t Catholic. My time at UDJ came into play, because there were folks there who had never known any Catholics – just like I had never met some of their faith groups, either. There were a lot of questions for one another, just out of curiosity and trying to better our understanding. It was a genuinely humbling experience, and it strengthened my faith because I had to put it into my own words.”
Not only did Fr. Palmer learn quickly, but he embraced the reality that as an Army chaplain, he was there not only for Catholics, but to serve all faiths.
“We all had a common goal in mind, and it was incredible to witness,” Fr. Palmer said. “Coming from U of D Jesuit and being committed to doing justice and open to growth was huge. It was a powerful summer.”
Fr. Palmer’s military career is still young and currently has him in the reserves. He was directly commissioned a second lieutenant after completing chaplain school and trains one weekend per month with a local unit as a first lieutenant. Now that Fr. Palmer is ordained, he will be re-commissioned as a full chaplain in July. After two more years with the reserves, Fr. Palmer will be able to go active duty.
“I do want to be deployed. There is a huge need,” said Fr. Palmer. “If I’m truly called to be a chaplain, I don’t want to be behind a desk. I want to be out where God sends me to go and needed. I always think of my uncles and brothers that went without spiritual support and the sacraments for so long while deployed. That story keeps reoccurring and drives me to go active duty.”
Both the Army and his order of Holy Cross have been very supportive of one another, understanding his calling to the chaplaincy, but also his obligations as a full-time time priest. To Fr. Palmer, they are not competing jobs; instead, the chaplaincy is a critical part of his ministry.
When tracking his path to where he is today, currently serving as an associate pastor at Christ the King in South Bend, Indiana, Fr. Palmer recalled two motivating factors for joining the priesthood.
"There wasn’t really one person on which everything rested; instead, I relied on the community of faith at U of D Jesuit, and its attentiveness to faith and knowledge. That aspect of U of D Jesuit education gave me the confidence to give this life a shot."
- Palmer on Receiving Support on Becoming A Priest
“I didn’t exactly have a St. Paul moment where I was struck off my horse,” Fr. Palmer started. “My uncle had been in Iraq with the Army; one night at dinner, he mentioned that the whole time he was there, he never saw a Catholic priest. No mass, no confession, no spiritual guidance for a whole year. My first reaction was, ‘How is that even possible? Going without the sacraments, especially in that environment?’
“The second moment came during a retreat at Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit. I was having a conversation with one of the guys there about how much he loved to play basketball. It struck me as kind of funny, because I always pictured in my head that the seminary was basically a bunch of monks walking around and praying all day. But hearing these conversations, I realized they were normal men. Imperfect men, like all of us, called to something great by God. That gave me confidence to pursue my vocation. It took away my fear of having to be perfect to do this. The apostles weren’t perfect, and Jesus still calls imperfect people to serve.”
Fr. Palmer looks back to his sophomore year as a Cub when the bricks really began to be laid for his path to priesthood.
“Matthew Hill taught Morality and was a good mentor,” Fr. Palmer said. “Fr. [Karl] Kiser, SJ, also, with his experience as a priest, helped out. My classmates were also a big part of it, especially Dan Devine ’07, who is also in the seminary for a different order. There wasn’t really one person on which everything rested; instead, I relied on the community of faith at U of D Jesuit, and its attentiveness to faith and knowledge. That aspect of U of D Jesuit education gave me the confidence to give this life a shot.”
When asked to define the heart of Jesuit education, Fr. Palmer spoke of his trust in God and his passion for sharing his faith - two characteristics he’s taken to heart as an alum and used throughout his career.
“The best thing about Jesuit education is that it isn’t afraid to bring together faith and reason. It isn’t afraid to bring faith into the conversations of the world. Jesuit education acknowledges that there are things in the world that aren’t easily answered by anyone, but our faith always has a seat at the table. Our belief gives us something to bring to the world. That means that faith has to work with intellect.”