Saturday, December 1, 2007

Matt Talbot makes Time Magazine (in 1931)

[Seventy-six years ago this week, this article appeared in TIME magazine. We are grateful that such news archives are increasingly available online today.]

 Monday, Dec. 07, 1931

Saintly Lumberman

A Jesuit from the U. S. debarked at Kingstown, Ireland, one day five years ago. On his luggage was the name Francis X. Talbot, S. J. Said his porter:

"And would you be related to the new saint?"

"What saint?"

"Haven't you heard of Matt Talbot?"

"Who is this Matt Talbot?"

"Ain't he after dying in Dublin with chains around his body? A saint, sure!"

Father Talbot, an associate editor of America (Jesuit weekly), knew that the Talbots are an ancient and illustrious Irish family, with both Roman Catholic and Protestant branches. But he had not heard of Matt Talbot. He made inquiries. To his amazement he discovered that Matt Talbot, a laborer, dead less than a year, had already acquired a reputation for almost unearthly piety. His biography by Sir Joseph Aloysius Glynn had been translated into a dozen languages, sold 60,000 copies. Known first to Dublin, then to the Catholic world, Matt Talbot's life was increasingly publicized until last week, when it became known in the U. S. that three weeks ago the first step was taken towards his beatification, prelude to canonization (sainthood).

The Ordinary or Informative Process—an inquiry as to "sanctity, virtues and miracles"—was instituted by Most Rev. Edward Joseph Byrne, Archbishop of Dublin. Postulator, to promote the cause in Rome, is Rt. Rev. Monsignor Michael Curran, vice rector of the Irish College in Rome. Promoter of the Faith in the case (in vulgate, the "Devil's Advocate") is Rt. Rev. Monsignor Michael Cronin of Rathgar, Dublin.

Matthew Talbot, born in 1856, was a thin, small man with a high forehead and big eyes. As a youth he was a harum-scarum, liked to drink whiskey and would sell his shoes for a drop of it. Then one day he agreed to take the pledge—for three months. It lasted for the rest of his life. Employed in a lumberyard, he became known as a quiet, pious man. What his fellows did not know was that he slept nights on a plank covered with a single sheet, a block of wood for his pillow. At 2 a. m. he would arise, pray until 5 a. m., then go to Dublin's Gardiner Street Church to make the Stations of the Cross. Because he wore a long overcoat, other worshippers did not notice that he had slit the knees of his trousers the better to abrade his flesh.

After his long devotions Laborer Talbot would go about his long day's work. His free time he spent in further prayer; Sundays he knelt at all the morning masses, and returned for afternoon and evening devotions. Cocoa, tea, bread comprised his diet. If friends persuaded him to eat more he expiated by fasting. His charities were even more secret than his pious practices. He managed to subsist on six shillings ($1.50) a week before the War, ten shillings after. The rest of his small wages went to the poor, to a Chinese mission and to the training of priests. Once he told his sister he had "finished three priests and was at the fourth" (cost: $150 a year).

On Trinity Sunday, 1925, Matt Talbot fell dead in Granby Lane, Dublin, in the 70th year of his life. His emaciated body was uncovered. Around it, imbedded in his flesh, was a rusty cart chain. On his arms and legs were chains and ropes. He had worn them secretly, continually for twelve years, save in 1923 when, taken ill, he was careful to remove them before going to a hospital. Said Father Talbot, reporting the event in America a year later: "There are no accidents in this universe. Matt Talbot's sudden heart attack and his instantaneous death were Divinely purposeful. They betrayed him to a world that needs his example."