Friday, November 30, 2007

Invitation to Site Readers and Supporters

The Venerable Matt Talbot Resource Center is in its online infancy of posting information and resources related to Matt Talbot. While there is much yet to post, we invite you to share anything related to MT at the email address in the profile section.

Please don't assume that we already know all that is online or in print about him. Simply searching the web for "Matt Talbot" is only a beginning. Other words besides "MT" in a search brings additional information and links.

In addition, we welcome original contributions by you or others or just a note. Feedback is important.

As for this site itself, we would appreciate knowing about any of our links that are not working or other suggestions for site improvement.

Thank you in advance.
Your MT Scribe

Biographies About Matt Talbot

Perhaps the most readily available biographies about Matt Talbot are listed here. Whereas there is some overlap, each author has a different focus on the life, times, and religious/recovery practices of Matt and provides detailed information not included in the other books. Therefore, all of these titles are recommended.

Matt Talbot and His Times (1977) by Mary Purcell

Remembering Matt Talbot (1954,1990) by Mary Purcell

Matt Talbot: His struggle and His Victory Over Alcoholism (1992) by Susan Helen Wallace

Matt Talbot (Second Edition, 2001), Eddie Doherty

To Slake a Thirst: The Matt Talbot Way to Sobriety (2000) by Philip Maynard

Perhaps the easiest way to purchase these available books (and read the reviews) is to Google "Amazon. com." Some are in print and others are available only as used books. Doing a Google or Catholic search on the internet with the book title in quotation marks will also bring up books and information and links not available through Amazon. Catholic (and secular) bookstores may carry one or more of these titles or can obtain them through their distributors. Catholic colleges and universities may have some titles in their collections. Larger public libraries may have some titles on their shelves or in storage. The publisher of each book above is not listed since it may have changed through the years or is now out of existence.

There are also older MT biographies that are not listed above (but will be listed and discussed in future posts on this site) that are less readily available but some are listed on Amazon. Some of these books and especially rarer copies of older biographies periodically are for sale on eBay.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

"I Ask Only Three Things . . ." : The Life of Venerable Matt Talbot

Ann Bottenhorn

Nothing ever happened to Matt Talbot, an ordinary Irish laborer of no great learning, no riches, no remarkable accomplishments. He lived in poverty and died, alone and unrecognized on a cold cobblestone lane, in Dublin. He left no family, no followers, no written discourses.

Scarcely anyone knew a thing about him. Yet within six months of his death, a brief biography sold 120,000 copies. Within a year, it had been published in twelve languages. Five years after that, the Catholic Church began investigating Matt Talbot's life to determine if he warranted consideration for sainthood. A short fifty years after his death, the Church bestowed on him the tide, "Venerable," finding him fit to be commended as a "hero" whose virtues are worthy to be imitated.

No, nothing ever happened to Matt Talbot, but as one biographer noted, "he happened to those about him, as light happens to a dark room."

". . . The Grace of God . . ."

Darkness abounded during Matt's lifetime. Ireland's great famine of the 1840s had driven many country folk into the city, seeking food and employment. England had garrisoned troops in Dublin, and shortly after Matt was born in 1856, soldiers began returning from the Crimean War. The city teemed with people who were out of work, out of money, and out of hope.

Matt was the second of twelve children born to Charles and Elizabeth Talbot. The family lived on the verge of poverty, for although Charles Talbot worked regularly, he spent most of his wages at the local pub. Eventually Matt and seven of his brothers followed in Charles' footsteps, drinking their way through life.

After spending just one year in school, Matt went to work at the age of twelve. He started as a messenger for a wine merchant and soon began sampling the products. Before long, he was living to drink. Neither thrashings from his father nor a change of jobs-he became an unskilled laborer for a bricklayer-deterred Matt. Over the next sixteen years, he spent nearly all of his earnings on alcohol.

By nature generous, Matt sometimes paid for his friends' drinks when they had no money. When he had none, he pawned or sold what he could-right down to his own shoes once-so that he could continue drinking. Thus one Saturday, when twenty-eight-year-old Matt had been out of work for a week, he stood outside his neighborhood pub, broke but optimistic. Surely one of his friends would buy him a drink. Hadn't he done so for them?

But curt nods and cold shoulders were all that Matt's friends gave him. Eventually, he returned home, dejected and sober, and announced that he was taking "the pledge"-a euphemism for making a solemn promise not to drink. That evening he met with a priest, made his promise, and went to Confession for the first time in years. And from that day, the grace of God, which Matt hadn't even thought to ask for yet, began manifesting its work in Matt.

". . . The Presence of God . . ."

Now he faced an enormous dilemma. Matt had promised, for three months only, not to drink. His family drank. His friends drank. He spent his non-working hours drinking. How was he to avoid the alcohol his body craved, that his mind assured him he could never do without?

He took refuge in the only place his drinking buddies wouldn't come looking for him: church. Matt began to attend Mass daily, before work, and to spend evenings kneeling in a shadowy corner of a neighborhood church-a neighborhood far from where he lived.

There, he made new friends-Jesus, Mary, and the saints-and cultivated new tastes-for solitude, prayer, and the presence of God. It didn't come easily, and time and again Matt returned home convinced that he would never stick with sobriety. Back in church the next day, he'd beg God, "Please, don't let me go back to my old ways. Have mercy on me."

Years later, Matt told his sister that the first three months were the hardest, declaring that it's easier to raise someone from the dead than to stop drinking. To help himself, Matt stuck two pins, crossed, in the sleeve of his coat, where he would see them often. They were to remind him to pray and to remind him that Jesus had suffered and died on the cross for him.

Matt was practical about adopting a new life. He established a schedule of Mass and prayer that left no time for visiting pubs. He never carried money in his pockets, lest he be tempted to stop in while walking to or from work. He joined due Franciscan Third Order and numerous sodalities. He spent Saturday afternoons and evenings, and all day Sunday, in church with his "new friends."

". . . The Benediction of God . . ."

Gradually, ,a new thirst began to replace the old one: a thirst for more of God's life and love. And God didn't let him down. The love of Christ began to overwhelm Matt's indulgence and intemperance. Matt wanted only to become like Christ, so he started fasting, sleeping less and praying more, and giving money to the missions and local poor families.

He read Scripture, lives of saints, and-considering his meager schooling-an astounding assortment of books: The Confessions of St. Augustine; writings of St. Francis de Sales, Teresa of Avila, and John Cardinal Newman; papal encyclicals, world history, and social policy. Word by word, he deciphered what they said. What he couldn't understand, Matt laboriously copied onto a scrap of paper and handed it to a sometimes-astonished priest for explanation the next time he went to Confession.

Prayer, reading, and atonement grew into a way of life that Matt managed to keep hidden. Meanwhile, those around him began to notice his humility, generosity, and self-control. His fellow laborers learned that Matt didn't abide cursing or lewd stories, so they stopped. His employer suspected that Matt was giving away most of his earnings, but no one guessed the intensity with which he was living this new life. He was inebriated now by the Holy Spirit, "drunk," as one writer put it, "only with the mercy and the wisdom and the power and the love of God."

For the last two years of his life, Matt suffered from heart disease. Strict fasting, limited sleep, and hard physical labor had worn him out. On June 7,1925, he collapsed on the way to Mass. No one recognized the frail little man who died in Granby Lane. He carried no money or identification, just a few odd scraps of paper in his pockets. Curiously, two pins, blackened with age, were pinned to his sleeve in a cross. Four days later, the body of Matt Talbot was identified. The books in his bare tenement room were discovered, along with many scraps of paper on which he had written. On one of those scraps was written the following prayer: "O Virgin, I ask only three things: the grace of God, the presence of God, and the benediction of God." Among many others, this prayer was surely answered.

Matt Talbot believed God absolutely. He emptied his heart and life of all that encumbered him and waited for the Lord to fill him to overflowing. He remained sober for forty-one years and, in a quiet, unobtrusive way, shed light in the darkness around him. He stands now as a hero for all who struggle with addiction, and a model for all who desire, in the words of Pope Pius XII, "the greatness of Christianity lived in all its fullness."

Copyright: Word Among Us, Jan 2005

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

"One day at a time: a down-and-out Irishman inspires miracles as a patron saint for the sober-minded."

U.S. Catholic, July 1, 2005

ON A SUNDAY AFTERNOON IN SPRING, IN THE FADING light of a church sacristy, a friend told me he was going away for a few weeks. And he needed me to know why. "I'm an alcoholic," he said quietly. He was heading to a treatment center in the Midwest.

The news surprised me. I'd never suspected he had a drinking problem. But I know how easy it can be to hide.

My parents were alcoholics. I remember as a kid taking out the trash before company came so no one would see the empty liquor bottles, the way my father staggered through the kitchen, and the way my mother began her Sundays with a Bloody Mary. After they died and I was grown and married, I tried to come to terms with it. What I did not know was whether there was someone to pray to about it. So before my friend left for rehab, I started a search.

I found a name unfamiliar to me--but one that holds meaning for countless alcoholics around the world: Matt Talbot.

Talbot was born in the slums of Dublin in 1856. When he was 12, to support his family, he got a job working for a company that bottled beer, where he got into the habit of drinking the dregs from the bottom of returned bottles. By the age of 16 he was an alcoholic.

Young Talbot would spend his money on drinking. When he ran out of money, he borrowed or begged. He pawned his clothes. Some times he stole. Every day was an exercise in how to get the next bottle.

But one Saturday in 1884, that changed. Talbot was standing outside a pub, unemployed and utterly broke, certain one of his friends would invite him in for a pint. No one did. They walked in and out of the pub all afternoon, and, one by one, they ignored him. Talbot was left alone--humiliated, desperate, spiritually scourged.

Stunned and hurt, he made his way home, taking an inventory of his life as he walked. Arriving at the house, he told his mother he was taking "the pledge": He would give up drinking. Not for a day. Not for a month. But for life. One day at a time.

Not long after, Talbot got a job at a lumberyard and began giving his beer money to the poor. He attended Mass every morning--and three Masses every Sunday.

"It is a constancy that God seeks," Talbot once said. And constant he was. His discipline was astonishing. He developed a self-styled program of austerity, fasting, and sacrifice, modeling his life on the Irish monks, with their strict attention to penance and humility. Decades before Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), he had created his own program of recovery that relied on surrendering to a Higher Power. It worked. Talbot stayed sober until his death in 1925.

The church began a formal inquiry into his life, and in 1973 Pope Paul VI declared Talbot "venerable," the first step toward canonization. Over the years news of Talbot's life and legacy spread. Today retreat houses and recovery centers bear his name, and a website ( posts favors and recoveries attributed to him.

Church scholars will tell you that there have not been enough confirmed miracles to have this man declared a saint. But others know better. We who have prayed for those who suffer from alcoholism will tell you the miracles Talbot has worked cannot be numbered. They are the miracles of glasses unfilled and bottles unopened. They are the miracles of dry lips and clear eyes, of a steady hand and a resolute heart. For anyone who is an alcoholic, or anyone who loves one, those are the greatest miracles of all.

JUST BEFORE MY FRIEND LEFT FOR THE TREATMENT CENTER, I pressed into his hand a Matt Talbot medal and told him I'd keep him in my prayers. And every morning after that I whispered a prayer to Talbot, asking him to help all those struggling to live without a drink, as he did, one day at a time.

Did it work? A couple of months later, my friend returned home, healthy and happy and sober. He's been that way for more than two years.

I like to think that perhaps he is another of Talbot's miracles: the handiwork of a quiet but committed Irishman who now pours out graces the way he once poured out beer--ordering up another round for anyone who needs it.

GREG KANDRA, writer and story producer for the CBS News program 60 Minutes. He lives and works in New York City.

COPYRIGHT 2005 Claretian Publications

This story is not unique; a search of the internet will show many such stories about the influence of Matt Talbot on people today. (JB)

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Look past the halo: Saints had sinful starts

By Cathleen Falsani, Religion Writer
Chicago Sun-Times
October 27, 2006

In honor of All Saints Day next week, I intend to hoist a couple dozen stiff drinks, start a bar brawl, sucker-punch a co-worker, walk around the neighborhood nude and maybe rob a bank.


That's what some of the officially recognized, church-sanctioned saints did.

Sticklers for truthiness that I know my readers to be, in fairness, most of the saints did those things before their conversions. But I bet most of you didn't know that there were whoremongers, boozehounds, swindlers, and card-carrying sociopaths among the heavenly hosts?

That's because our saints have been bowdlerized, according to what Thomas Craughwell, author of the new book Saints Behaving Badly: The Cutthroats, Crooks, Trollops, Con Men, and Devil Worshippers Who Became Saints, was telling me the other day.

See, Thomas Bowdler was an English physician back in the 18th century who removed all the naughty bitsthe parts he found offensivefrom William Shakespeare's work and called his "clean" edition Family Shakespeare.

"They did the same things to the lives of the saints," Craughwell said. "They would just take out all of these juicy passages that had survived from the early centuries of the church and all through the Middle Ages and the Renaissance and they used this cant phrase, 'He/She was a great sinner.'

"And since most of the one-volume collections of saints' lives that are still on the market today are based on the 19th century models, we still don't get" the real stories, said Craughwell, a medievalist by training who has written a number of books on saints.

The inspiration for Craughwell's most recent saint book comes from an unlikely source: the Enron scandal.

No sins unforgivable

He wrote an essay for the Wall Street Journal called "Saints for Swindlers"covering everything from guys who cooked the books to government bailouts.

"In the research I ran into saints who had especially non-saintly beginnings," he said.

So in his breezy, witty, and delightfully educational Saints Behaving Badly, Craughwell goes about setting the record straight.

"It's surprising how often you can really find out, but you have to dig and you have to go back to the old sources," he said. "They're still there. They haven't been burned. Because for most of the life of the church this wasn't considered scandalous, this was considered inspiring."

So Craughwell writes about St. Matthew (the apostle) who was an extortionist, and St. Fabiola, the bigamist. There's St. Moses the Ethiopian gang-banger, St. Olga the mass murderer, St. Augustine the heretic playboy, and St. Mary of Egypta nymphomaniac who once seduced an entire ship of pilgrims on their way to the Holy Land and then after her conversion wandered naked in the desert as a hermit for 47 years.

Craughwell's favorite sinnerly saint is Callixtus the Embezzler, a sticky-fingered 3rd century Roman slave who was (stupidly) put in charge of the first bank set up for Christians. His investments were awfulEnron awfuland he had a nasty habit of helping himself to money in the coffers as well. He was in and out of trouble and jail before having a true change of heart.

"Callixtus was the perpetual pimple on the butt that won't go away," Craughwell said.

"The thing I like about his story is that when he finally comes back to Rome for the last time and Pope Victor looks at him and goes, 'OK,' he takes care of him. But he moves him way the hell out of town. It's both charitable and prudent."

Callixtus eventually was elected pope, and during his short reign earned a reputation for his mercy, insisting that any sinnerno matter how horrible the sin committedcould be forgiven. It wasn't a popular notion at the time, and it still isn't.

My favorite saint in Craughwell's book is not technically a saintyet. But he sure should be, in my humble, Protestant opinion. His name is Matt Talbot and he was a quintessential Irish drunk who died penniless on a Dublin street in 1925 on his way to mass.

The miracle of sobriety

"Venerable Matt Talbot, Chronic Alcoholic," as he is dubbed in Craughwell's book, was born in 1856, the second oldest of 12 children in his working-class family. Talbot's father was a drunk, as were he and most of his brothers. As the story goes, Matt Talbot stumbled home drunk for the first time at the age of 12.

Talbot was a pathetic drunk. He sold everything he had to buy booze, then drank on credit, and then turned to stealing. Once he even stole a homeless man's fiddle and pawned it to buy hooch.

At the age of 28, at what I suppose we'd today call rock-bottom, Talbot took a spiritual pledge to not drink for three months. And he didn't. Then he took another pledge. And another. And it is said he never had another drink, crediting his sobriety with the intervention of the Virgin Mary and the grace of God.

An unskilled laborer, Talbot spent the rest of his life trying to atone for his previous sins.

He spent hours at church and in prayer, slept on a plank with a block of wood for his pillow, wound chains and ropes around his body to mortify his flesh, apparently, and paid off all the debts he'd incurred from the friends and family he'd borrowed money from during his 16-year bender.

It's said he spent years searching for that homeless man whose fiddle he stole. He never found him.

Talbot gave the bulk of his modest salary to charity. He died on his way to mass at St. Dominick's parish in Dublin, on the street, surrounded by kind strangers.

In 1975, Pope Paul VI declared him to be venerable, a step on the road to canonization as a bona fide saint.

"Last year, the people in Dublin handling his cause [for sainthood] sent all this documentation to Rome saying 'We think we had a miraculous cure,' " Craughwell was telling me. You need two miracles to be deemed a saint. "Rome said, 'It's really not convincing enough. Can you send another one?' "

I could send them a couple. Do you know how hard it is to stop drinking if you're an addict, never mind turn your life around into one of asceticism and thoroughly altruistic, humble service?

I know more than a few alcoholics, some in recovery, some not, and getting sober is a miracle. Every time.

Matt Talbot might not have had anything to do with the sobriety of the millions of people who've found it since his death. But I'm sure he had everything to do with at least two.

The man's already a saint in my book. But it's time somebody made it official.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Matt Talbot - A Model for all Men and Women

August 15, 2004

Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Abbey of Saint Joseph de Claifval

In a street in Dublin, Ireland, the morning of Trinity Sunday, June 7, 1925, a man who was making his way to a nearby church suddenly collapsed, dead. His body was taken to the hospital and washed by a religious nurse. She was greatly amazed when, in removing the deceased's clothing, she discovered a chain from which hung religious medals, wound twice around his waist. Other chains or cords encircled his arms and legs. Although these rusty chains were embedded in his skin, his body was impeccably clean. So who was this man? Was he insane or a saint?

From beer to whiskey

Matt Talbot was born in Dublin in May 1856, the sixth child in a family of twelve. As a young boy, he was placed in the school of the Brothers of the Christian Doctrine, where he did not do well in his studies. At the age of 12, he began work in a brewery. Working in an atmosphere where alcohol was everywhere, he soon followed the bad example of the other employees and began to empty the bottles. Seeing him come home every evening in unusually good spirits, his father intervened and found him another job, under his own supervision, with the port and docks committee. But Matt's situation got worse—he got into the habit of swearing and using the dockers' strong language. To top it all off, his new work buddies introduced him to whiskey! His father tried to dissuade him, and came to blows over it with him, but to no use. To his parents' despair, Matt removed himself from the paternal authority and sank into drunkenness. However, the young man was a kind-hearted soul. Realizing the dishonor he had brought upon his father, he left the docks and was hired as a mason. He then spent every evening in cabarets and regularly went home drunk. He spent his entire paycheck on booze. He sank to such a point in vice that sometimes he resorted to stealing to get ahold of alcohol.

His body was slowly being destroyed. But, more serious still is the sin that gives death to the soul: intemperate use of drink offends the Creator. Through alcoholism, just as through drugs, man voluntarily deprives himself of the use of reason, the most noble attribute of human nature. This licentiousness, when carried out in full knowledge and voluntarily, is a serious sin against God and also against the neighbor whom one, in a state of drunkenness, puts himself in danger of seriously offending. As with all serious sin, such overindulgence brings with it a loss of the state of grace, the greatest misfortune that can befall man. Indeed, man has no good more precious than the friendship of God. But this friendship is lost through serious sin. Our Lord warned His disciples against such misfortune: Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned (Jn. 15:6). With these words, Jesus reveals to us the fate reserved for those who reject the divine friendship offered to every man by means of the redeeming Incarnation. Such a rejection leads to eternal death, hell, about which the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) tells us: «Jesus often speaks of Gehenna, of the unquenchable fire reserved for those who to the end of their lives refuse to believe and be converted, where both body and soul can be lost. Jesus solemnly proclaims that He will send His angels, and they will gather... all evil doers, and throw them into the furnace of fire, and that he will pronounce the condemnation: Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire! The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, eternal fire. The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in Whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs. The affirmations of Sacred Scripture and the teachings of the Church are a call to the responsibility incumbent upon man to make use of his freedom in view of his eternal destiny. They are at the same time an urgent call to conversion: Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few (Mt. 7:13-14)» (CCC 1034-36).

The renunciation of sin and conversion to God are necessary for anyone who desires eternal life. To the question from the young man who asked, Master, what good must I do to possess everlasting life? Jesus replied, If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments (Mt. 19:16-17). Saint Benedict speaks no differently to the disciple who comes forward to enter monastic life: «[T]he Lord is waiting every day for us to respond by our deeds to His holy admonitions. And the days of this life are lengthened and a truce granted us for this very reason, that we may amend our evil ways. As the Apostle says, Do you not know that God's patience is inviting you to repent? For the merciful Lord tells us, I desire not the death of the sinner, but that the sinner should be converted and live... Therefore we must prepare our hearts and our bodies to do battle under the holy obedience of His commands; and let us ask God that He be pleased to give us the help of His grace for anything which our nature finds hardly possible. And if we want to escape the pains of hell and attain life everlasting, then, while there is still time, while we are still in the body and are able to fulfil all these things by the light of this life, we must hasten to do now what will profit us for eternity» (Rule, Prologue). We must therefore not put conversion off until tomorrow, as Saint John Chrysostom observed: «Let us consider our salvation. Do not delay in converting yourselves to the Lord, and put it not off from day to day (Sir. 5:8); for you do not know what tomorrow will bring« You had become intoxicated, you filled your bellies, you pillaged? Stop now, and turn back. Give thanks to God that you were not taken away in the midst of your sins« Consider that what is at stake is your soul«» (Homily on the second letter to the Corinthians).

A stroke of grace

In spite of his debasement, Matt retained a degree of propriety. He did not have illicit relations. Every morning, no matter the libations of the night before, he was up at six o'clock to go to work. He also faithfully attended Sunday Mass, even if he did not receive the Sacraments. One Saturday in 1884, divine grace knocked at his door. After having been out of work for a week, Matt, 28 years old, found himself without money and unable to buy alcohol. And yet, he was tormented by desire. Around noon, he went to station himself with Philip, his younger brother, on a street corner where workers passed after having received their pay. Surely one or another would invite him to have a drink. The workers passed and greeted him, but no one invited him. Matt was cut to the quick. To be deprived of alcohol cost him dearly, but most of all, he was wounded by the harshness of his friends, to whom he had frequently offered a round at the cabaret. He abruptly went home. His mother was quite surprised to see him arrive so early, and sober. His mother! Matt was seized with the thought that he had been so ungrateful towards her. He had given his parents almost nothing toward board and lodging (all his money went to buy alcohol!) and now his heart was broken for having left them to suffer alone, while he went off to drink in a selfish manner. At this time in Ireland, it was not unusual for a man who wanted to give up drinking to make a pledge. After the meal, sitting alone with his mother, Matt suddenly said, «I'm going to make the pledge.»—«Good heavens! Do it, but don't make it if you can't keep it!»—«I will make it, in God's name.» After having carefully dressed himself, he went to the College of the Holy Cross, asked to see a priest, and confessed. On the priest's prudent advice, Matt made his pledge for a three-month period. The next day, he went to hear the five o'clock Mass at Saint Francis Xavier Church, received Communion and returned home renewed. But to remain faithful to his pledge, the struggle would be terrible. Matt therefore decided to draw from daily Communion the spiritual strength he would need to keep his resolution. The most difficult time was the evening, after work. To avoid temptation, the newly-converted began to take walks in the city. One day, however, he entered a cabaret at the same time as a number of other customers. The bartender, who was busy, seemed to ignore Matt, who, offended by this inattention, left as quickly as possible, having decided never again to set foot in a pub.

«Will I ever drink again?»

During his walks, Matt met with another difficulty: alcohol had ruined his health, and he grew tired quickly. So, entering a church, he knelt before the Tabernacle and began to pray, begging God to strengthen him. He thus got into the habit of visiting the house of God. Nevertheless, the three months were long. The symptoms of alcohol withdrawal—hallucinations, depression, nausea—were for him a veritable Calvary. At times, the old passion awakened in him—he had to struggle desperately and prolong his prayers. One day, returning home, he collapsed into a chair and sadly said to his mother: «It's all no use, Mother—once these three months are over, I will drink again«» But his mother comforted him and encouraged him to pray. Following this advice to the letter, Matt acquired a taste for prayer, and therein found his salvation. Indeed, prayer allows us to get out of situations that are hopeless in human terms. For God all things are possible (Mt. 19:26). Saint Alphonsus of Liguori, a doctor of the Church, affirms: «The grace to pray is given to everyone, such that if someone loses his soul, he has no excuse« Pray, pray, pray and never abandon prayer: he who prays is certainly saved; he who does not pray is certainly damned» (cf. CCC 2744). When the three months were over, astonished to have «stuck it out,» Matt renewed his vow for another six months, at the end of which time he promised never to drink alcohol again.

Matt began a new life, a life of intimacy with God, of which daily Mass was the pillar. But, in 1892, the five A.M. Mass at which Matt usually received Communion was canceled. The first Mass from then on was at 6:15. Despite the real skill he had acquired in his work, he did not hesitate to change jobs, and was hired as a simple manual labor at a wood merchant's, where work didn't start until eight o'clock. His new job consisted of loading trucks. At night, as soon as work was over, he washed up with care, put on his best clothes—because he did not want to enter the house of God with his work clothes on—and went to the church to visit the Blessed Sacrament. One day, he admitted to his confessor: «I greatly desired the gift of prayer, and my wish has been fully granted.» His existence from them on was completely directed towards God, and especially to the true presence of the Lord in the Tabernacle. «[W]hile the Eucharist is reserved in churches or oratories—Christ is truly Emmanuel, which means God with us,» wrote Pope Paul VI. «For He is in the midst of us day and night; He dwells in us with the fullness of grace and of truth. He raises the level of morals, fosters virtue, comforts the sorrowful, strengthens the weak and stirs up all those who draw near to Him to imitate Him, so that they may learn from His example to be meek and humble of heart, and to seek not their own interests but those of God. Anyone who has a special devotion to the sacred Eucharist and who tries to repay Christ's infinite love for us with an eager and unselfish love of his own, will experience and fully understand—and this will bring great delight and benefit to his soul—just how precious is a life hidden with Christ in God and just how worthwhile it is to carry on a conversation with Christ, for there is nothing more consoling here on earth, nothing more efficacious for progress along the paths of holiness» (Encyclical Mysterium fidei, September 3, 1965).

The meaning of the chains

Matt Talbot cherished a tender devotion to the Mother of Jesus. Every day, he recited the Rosary and the office of the Blessed Virgin. Around 1912, he read the Treatise on True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin, by Saint Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort. In this book, he learned to practice «holy Slavery» through the consecration of his entire being and all his possessions to the service of Mary. As a practical means of living in the spirit of this filial attachment to Mary, Saint Grignion recommended the wearing of a small chain. This is the meaning of the chains found on Matt Talbot's body after his death.

Naturally quick-tempered, Matt came to find it difficult to endure his companions' swearing and coarse language. When they took the Lord's name in vain, he respectfully lifted his hat. Seeing this gesture, his friends would redouble their bad language. At first, Matt would severely reprimand them, but later on, he limited himself to gently saying, «Jesus Christ hears you.» One day, he sharply criticized his foreman for a less than generous charitable contribution. His boss called him back to respect and, the next day, Matt reported to his boss: «Our Lord,» he declared, «told me that I must ask your forgiveness. I am coming to do it.» His exemplary life ended up inspiring respect. What is more, he was a pleasant companion, always the first to laugh at a good joke, provided that it was within the limits of propriety.

«Your clothes look wretched»

In imitation of the ancient Irish monks who followed the tradition of Saint Columba, Matt Talbot imposed upon himself an ascetic dietary regimen, both for the expiation of his sins as well as to mortify himself and promote in himself the life of the spirit. However, when friends invited him, he ate like everyone else. Entering the Third Order of Saint Francis, he applied himself to imitate Christ's poverty, reducing his needs to the bare minimum, and giving the rest to the poor. At the beginning of his conversion, he had kept the habit of smoking. One day, one of his friends asked him for tobacco. He had just bought a pipe and a bag of tobacco. In a heroic gesture, he gave them both away, and would never smoke again. He ordinarily wore shabby and threadbare clothes, and one day, someone gave him a new suit. He wanted to refuse it, but his confessor intervened—«Talbot, your clothes look wretched. They are offering you a new suit«»—«Father, I promised God never to wear new clothes.»—«Well!» replied the Father. «It's God Who is sending you these!»—«All right, if it's God Who is sending them to me, I'll take them.»

If there was one luxury that Matt allowed himself, it was books. He loved to spend time reading, his favorite reading material being the Holy Scriptures and the writings of the Saints. Flipping through the Bible found in his home after his death, one could notice that he was especially fond of the Psalms, particularly the penitential Psalms in which the sinner expresses regret to God for his sins, but also unshakable confidence in divine mercy: Have mercy on me, O God, in Your goodness; in the greatness of Your compassion wipe out my offense. Thoroughly wash me from my guilt and of my sin cleanse me« Give me back the joy of Your salvation« (Psalm 50 [51] «Miserere»). He also made notes that reveal an astonishing elevation of thought for a man of very rudimentary schooling. Some examples of his reflections: «Our time in this life is only a race to death, in which no man can stop« Freedom of the mind is gained by freeing oneself from pride, which makes the soul disposed to do the will of God in the smallest things« Applying the will consists in doing good, abusing it consists in doing evil« In meditation, we seek God through reason and commendable acts, but in contemplation, we see effortlessly«» This life of prayer and penitence was strengthened by exceptional graces. One day he confided to his sister: «How sad it is to see what little love people have for God!« Oh Susan! If you knew the profound joy I felt last night as I was conversing with God and His Blessed Mother!», then, realizing that he was talking about himself, he changed the subject.

There was profound unrest in Ireland in the period from 1911 to 1921—labor conflicts marked by unemployment and strikes, the struggle for home rule, the First World War, then the war between Ireland and England. In the midst of this unrest, Matt kept his soul in peace. Nevertheless, the workers' cause was close to his heart. He candidly condemned the inadequacy of the salaries of married workers, whom he helped financially as much as he could. But he never demanded anything for himself. When friends quit their jobs or were dismissed, he expressed support of their cause.

«Thank the Great Healer»

At the age of sixty-seven, Matt Talbot was physically spent—shortness of breath and heart palpitations forced him to ease up on his activities. After two hospital stays in 1923 and 1925, he recovered to some degree and took up his work again. During these stays, as soon as he was able, he would go to the chapel. To a nun who scolded him for the fright he had given her when he disappeared from his room, he answered, smiling, «I have thanked the sisters and the doctors—was it not right to thank the Great Healer?» On Sunday, June 7, 1925, he was making his way to the Church of the Holy Saviour. Exhausted, he collapsed on the sidewalk. A lady gave him a glass of water. Matt opened his eyes, smiled, and let his head fall down again—this was the great encounter so desired with Christ Who came to call, not the self-righteous, but sinners (Mt. 9:13). In 1975, Matt Talbot received the title «Venerable». Today, many charitable organizations dedicated to helping victims of alcohol and drugs place themselves under his patronage.

Matt Talbot is a model for all men and women. To victims of alcoholism or drugs, he shows through his example that with the grace of God, recovery is possible. «Alcohol addictions are at times so strong that those closest to the alcoholic are led to believe that he will never overcome his addiction, and the alcoholic himself is tempted to lose all hope. It is good then to remember Jesus' resurrection. This reminds us that failure is never God's last word» (Social Commission of French Bishops, declaration of December 1, 1998). To those who are slaves to other sins (idolatry, blasphemy, abortion, euthanasia, contraception, adultery, debauchery, homosexuality, masturbation, stealing, false witness, slander, etc.), he reminds them that one must «never despair of God's mercy,» in accordance with Saint Benedict's recommendation (Rule, ch. 4). Our Lord promised St. Margaret Mary that sinners would find in His Heart the source and the infinite ocean of mercy. Just as it is the nature of a ship to sail on the water, it is God's nature to forgive and be merciful, as the Church confirms in one of its prayers. Saint Therese of Lisieux, Doctor of the Church, also was able to write near the end of her manuscripts: «Even if I had on my conscience all the sins that can be committed, I would go, my heart broken with repentance, to throw myself into the arms of Jesus, for I know how much He loves the prodigal child who returns to Him.» She added, in spoken words, «If I had committed all the crimes it is possible to commit, I would still have the same confidence, I would feel that this multitude of offenses would be like a drop of water thrown into a raging blaze.» Matt Talbot's life eloquently proves that by turning faithfully to the Lord to ask forgiveness, one may, through the Sacrament of Penance, the normal way of reconciliation with God, begin a new life under Mary's maternal gaze.

Venerable Matt Talbot, obtain for us the grace of turning with confidence to the divine mercy, and of going to the very end of the demands of a passionate love for Jesus and Mary!

Dom Antoine Marie osb.

Permission of the Saint Joseph Abbey (France) for the Venerable Matt Talbot Resource Center to reproduce this “Letter” was received on 11/26/07. We added the title for posting purposes.


Sunday, November 25, 2007

Staggering to Heaven

This is one of the most detailed articles about Matt's life and recovery.

Staggering to Heaven


The friend of God whose life ended on a Dublin sidewalk on June 7, 1925, was one of those hidden holy. Like the majority of this quiet legion, the neatly but shabbily dressed, old workingman who collapsed and died on his way to hear a second Sunday morning Mass should still be known only to God. Yet, having let him live his sixty-nine years in obscurity, God called attention to Matthew Talbot immediately after his death. Since 1975, in fact, Talbot is one of the Church’s official Venerables (literally, one worthy of veneration on the basis of exhaustively verified heroic virtue) — thus only a miracle away from being beatified and another from being canonized. If either happens, he becomes the Church’s first known alcoholic saint.


Born on May 2, 1856, in a Dublin tenement, Matthew Talbot was the second son of Charles Talbot, a tiny bantam rooster of a man who did day labor on Dublin’s docks in spite of his seemingly inadequate size. Unusually loud, aggressive, and downright quarrelsome when drinking — which he usually was — Charles was married to a devout woman who bore him twelve children. Nine survived to crowd with their parents into quarters that were always rented and always woefully cramped. That Charles and all of his sons but the eldest — a mother’s boy who remained a bachelor teetotaler — spent most of their meager wages on drink seems less a wonder than that Elizabeth Bagnall Talbot did not seek some opiate herself.

Matt Talbot’s mother dragged her underfed, miserable brood through eighteen moves in twenty years, always living in tenements without indoor plumbing or even running water, always struggling to get the landlord paid and food on the table. Like countless Irish women, she made this Way of the Cross under the scourge of political and social inhumanities deepened by her menfolk’s alcoholism.

The second son, Matt, was repeatedly truant from the special classes the Christian Brothers ran to give slum boys a smattering of literacy and religious understanding before they went to work. By age twelve, Talbot was already working as a messenger boy in that pre-telephone or fax era. And he was already drinking.

Alcoholism, it’s been said, is just a matter of poor luck in the biochemical draw. But biochemistry is not the only factor. One need claim no great insight to see the appeal of the pub in Dublin, a city of bone-chilling damp, penetrating rains, and saucy breezes that even in summer can quickly reverse one’s umbrella. Pubs beckon one out of weather’s miseries to a comfortable seat in a dry, cheerfully lit place where laughter and stories drown out the whipping of the rain and a long swig of porter or whisky races into one’s chilled body as a quickening arrow of life and warmth.


In the 1875-85 Ireland of Talbot’s young manhood there was a second impetus to build a life around pub and alcohol: the sheer overcrowding of home life. Even a quarter century after Talbot’s death, an American priest researcher would still find many Dublin working class families, including relatives of Talbot’s, crammed into one rented room. One working-class couple with sixteen children rejoiced in 1947 to have moved from one and then two rooms to the ultimate to be hoped for: rented quarters of four rooms (rooms, not bedrooms) for the fourteen members of the household.

So Matt Talbot was a drunk among thousands. There were so many like him in his day that it was not uncommon for employers to pay their laborers in the pub or to deliver some men’s pay directly to the pubkeeper, who would keep a running account and urge his clients not to drink so much they had to go dry before the next payday.

By 1884 Talbot — scrawny and undersized like his dad — had gone from messenger boy to dock worker to hod carrier. As a hod carrier — the unskilled laborer who trots donkeylike with a heavy load of mortar or bricks alongside the bricklayer — Talbot was known for hard, fast work. With many Dublin buildings made of brick, the employer had a whole squad of bricklayers and hod carriers and would put little Talbot out front to set the pace.

After a ten-hour day of fast-paced toil, the slope-shouldered young worker would head for the pub, where he was known as an opinionated, hot-tempered man who argued and even fought like his father, but also as a generous sort who would stand drinks all around on payday. If the money ran short, Talbot was not averse, a companion remembered, to joining a brother or friend in stealing a pig’s cheek from a bar owner or even a violin from a poor wandering fiddler, rushing out to sell it and drinking up the proceeds.

He just had a scruple — a bit of cowardice, an accomplice later termed it — about being the one actually to pinch the item. Maybe he used foul language when drunk — recollections vary — but there seems agreement that Talbot had no use for dancing, playing cards, joining in sports, or chasing women. “He was interested in only one thing — drinking,” a friend from those years later recalled. As for religion, by age 28 Talbot continued to show up at Sunday Mass and mumble a daily Hail Mary, but he had neither taken Communion nor been to confession for three years.

With all his unmarried siblings, he lived at home. He never had a girlfriend and, like his older brother, told his mother “Tou are the only wife I want.” Still the champion hod carrier rarely had a coin to pass that hard-pressed woman for his keep. With husband and several sons employed, Elizabeth Talbot still had to do outside domestic labor at times. Once when Matt gave her a pittance for his board, she looked at the coin and cried “God forgive you, Matt!”


He felt guilty, no doubt, but drink came before all. Occasionally he even sold the work boots right off his feet to keep drinking. Then came a day of great luck. He backed a horse one weekend and it won enough that the day laborer did no work all week — just drank. His winnings ran out just as payday arrived for his mates at the brickyard. Knowing that he had often stood rounds for them, he stationed himself with one of his brothers between the brickyard and the nearby pub. His companions passed, some with a quick greeting and some with ruses to avoid seeing him. Then they dived into the pub, not one having invited him for a drink.

Something died in Talbot.

He stomped home.

“You’re early. And sober!” his mother exclaimed.

“Yes, I’m going to take the pledge.”

Not put off, Talbot rushed out, found a priest and pledged sobriety for three months. He dared no more, he said later.

Talbot’s whole life beyond backbreaking labor had revolved around the fellowship of the pub. Drink and its comradeship had been his sacraments, his joy, his comfort, his very reason for living. To give all this up, he had no AA, no aversion therapy, no clinic, no psychological counseling. And he faced the same grinding, poorly paid work and miserable living conditions, the same dank climate and drinking companions, and the same family heritage of alcoholism.

To this horrendous challenge, Talbot instinctively turned to the spiritual genius of those early Irish monks who “subdued the body’s urges” by “chastising the flesh” through the most arduous penances and rigorous modes of life.

No day passed that Talbot did not attend 5 a.m. Mass before work. After work he passed the evening in some church far from his local pub until time for bed. When a 6 a.m. Mass replaced the 5 a.m., since bricklaying began at 6 a.m., he found a lumberyard job that opened at 8 a.m., laboring there the rest of his life. He went frequently to confession, took spiritual direction, became a third-order Franciscan and joined every local confraternity, thereby linking himself to most of the other major religious orders while assuring that those he associated with outside of work were engaged in something either in or for the Church.

After a disastrous evening when — overcome with lust for a drink — Talbot rushed into a pub and was saved only because, mysteriously, no server seemed to see him, he imposed upon himself the hardship of never carrying cash. To avoid being tempted by his brothers, he moved out until they died or married.

After the deaths of his father and eldest brother, Talbot returned home and continued to share a tenement room with his mother. His sister, who cooked for him when he lived alone, and the woman who heated his noon meal where he worked, both report dietary habits worthy of some desert father: At home he ate on his knees and lived primarily on dry bread with meat a couple times a week, except during Lent, June (in honor of the Sacred Heart), Advent, or any big feast when he abstained totally. And he often fasted completely. Lunch for decades — while doing hard manual labor all day — was a revolting mixture of cocoa and tea steeped in boiling water but drunk cold as one more penance. As has been reported of saints time and again, on this totally inadequate diet he remained healthy and a notable worker.


As sobriety became long-term, instead of easing up a bit, Talbot went deeper into the asceticism of Ireland’s early monks. For years he slept only about three hours a day — and that on a board plank with a wooden block for a pillow — clutching a statue of the Virgin to him so firmly that a relative claimed one side of his face became permanently without feeling. Tenement women up with sick children heard Talbot singing hymns in the middle of the night when he rose at 2 a.m. to pray.

His mother confided to her daughters that she often awoke in the night to see Talbot praying with his arms extended penitentially in the form of a cross. Occasionally he went back to bed briefly before heading for the church where, whatever the weather, he knelt on the stones outside until the sacristan unlocked the doors for the earliest Mass. He prayed during his lunch break and, whenever work paused, while others chatted, he prayed hidden behind the lumber piles. After work, he rushed to the nearest church to pray some more. Sundays he attended Mass after Mass and was proud that on a couple feasts of the Virgin, by dint of being in churches where several were being said at various altars, he could claim to have honored her by hearing twenty-one Masses.

Any addiction is by nature terribly self-centered. At first Matt Talbot can be said to have simply changed his addiction from drink to asceticism. Not a style that even most saints find appealing, the pitiless attack on the body of certain desert fathers and other ascetics nonetheless sometimes proves a successful route into the heart of God. There is ample proof that it succeeded in Talbot’s case.

From struggling against the craving for alcohol and his focus on acts of repentance (in his era, the drinker was seen by most as a willful sinner rather than one worthy of compassion), he moved on to identification with the universal mission of the Church. The same ardor that had put him out front carrying hod and made him single-minded in pursuit of drink now focused on a new thirst — for souls and for God.

“Matt cares nothing for money,” his fellow workers said. And in fact, all Talbot’s money, beyond the rent of the tenement room and the barest of necessities, either became quiet charity to other workmen struggling to support families or went off to works of the Church, particularly the missions.


To know God and his Church better, this barely literate man added to a prayer life worthy of those early Irish monks, exhaustive reading from theology, papal encyclicals, the lives of the saints, and the Church’s teaching on such social issues as the rights of workers to a just wage. The lists of the books he read — buying them or borrowing from a fellow devout soul among Dublin’s educated class — show a Catholic of the widest interests and knowledge.

But did he understand papal encyclicals and books on theology? Talbot told a fellow workman, who chided that men like them could not understand the sort of book Talbot held, that, before reading anything, he begged the help of the Holy Spirit to grasp the material — and he felt that he did. His well-educated book lender, who enjoyed talking over their mutual reading, confirmed Talbot was not lying. Gradually he was sought out by other workmen as a spokesman for the Church.

When Talbot suddenly dropped dead on the street, it was the heavy, sharp penitential chains wound round his limbs and body — chains he had removed whenever seen by a doctor — that resonated with Irish spirituality to arouse public interest. Although his spiritual director had preceded him in death, taking many details of Talbot’s soul with him, a biography came out almost at once based on interviews with others who knew Talbot. While it contained a few blatant untruths (his sisters “protected” the family by declaring Talbot’s father never drank, for instance), it still raised a swell of regard for Talbot that has never ebbed.

There is no holy personality mold. About the time he stopped drinking, Talbot’s best biographer, Mary Purcell, pictures him with “the same rather irascible temperament, the same inherited tendency to shout and bluster like his father.” In relentless pursuit of God through prayer, study, sacraments, vigils, fasts and abstinence, almsgiving, and other deeds of charity — because these acts were driven by a genuine thirst for God — the accretions to Talbot’s personality from alcoholism and modeling on poor parental example gradually sloughed away.

The true self that emerged was still a hard worker determined to earn every penny of his pay (when he thought he hadn’t he tried to refuse it) and still a strong-minded individual “afraid of no one,” as he put it, “but God himself.” But in confrontations with a boss, Matt now was civil and apologized if he became a bit heated. Serious-minded, he was nevertheless seen as a friendly man not averse to a laugh. Even if they made fun of his pious ways, his coworkers liked him — as did the lumberyard watchman’s little girls whom he always remembered with a coin and a visit at Christmas.

Generous in the pub in his drinking years, Talbot had turned from drink at the lack of reciprocal generosity. Now purified of self-seeking, many of his donations and good deeds were done in secret.

But the final word on Matt Talbot should go to his saintly spiritual director. This priest — who loved to go to Talbot’s tenement room to pray with him — told various people about the simple workman whom he said was a saint. By citing Matt Talbot’s heroic virtue, the Church agrees.


Treece, Patricia. “Staggering to Heaven.” Crisis 14 no. 11 (December 1996).

Reprinted by permission of the Morley Institute, a non-profit educational organization.


Patricia Treece is author of such books on saints as A Man for Others. Her column, Saints Alive, originates in the Los Angeles Archdiocese newspaper The Tidings.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Matt Talbot - triumph over addiction to alcohol

Homily for Temperance Sunday - Last Sunday before Lent

by Fr. Tommy Lane

Today is Temperance Sunday when the Church invites us to reflect on the value of temperance, on the value of moderation and self-restraint so I would like to share with you about Matt Talbot.

He was born in 1856 into poverty in Dublin’s inner city. After only one year in school he left it to begin working with wine merchants to supplement the family income. Some crates used to be damaged and the workers helped themselves to bottles of stout. One day Matt sampled a bottle. It was a new taste and was good. He was twelve years. Soon he began to open more and more bottles. He even started his day with beer. The first thing he thought of when he woke up every day was alcohol. His mother knew he had taken to the drink and prayed a great deal for him. He always made sure to come home sober because he did not want to cause pain to his mother. But one evening he came home drunk. His father changed his employment hoping it would help, getting him a job where he worked in the Port and Docks Board. But Matt took to whiskey and not to cause his father grief at work he got a job as a bricklayer. The only disadvantage was that now he had to buy the alcohol. It was 1am or 2am every morning when he came home from drinking. Deep inside he wanted to cry and shout and beg for help, but he was not ready just yet. He could not part with his addiction.

His conversion began like this. It was early 1884 and Matt was 28 years old and had been drinking for sixteen years. One Saturday morning he was not able to get up for work. But that evening he went to a location near the tavern where he and his mates drank. But his drinking buddies ignored him when they passed him by from work, even those for whom he had bought drinks in the past. He went home. “You’re home very soon”, his mother said. He said to her, “I’m going to stop drinking for good.” She said to him, “Don’t take the pledge if you don’t intend to keep it.” He knew it would take faith, more faith than he had but he knew his mother’s faith would help him to ask the Lord for courage. He walked to the seminary of Dublin archdiocese to find a priest so he could make the pledge. He felt like turning around and going back home. It had been three years since his last Confession and he had been drunk every day except that day. A kind priest helped him and he took the pledge to renounce alcohol for three months. He thought three months would be an eternity and he knew the first three months were going to be a terrible struggle. He did not believe he could do it. He knew where he would get his strength. He would go to Mass the next morning. In fact he went to Mass every morning after that for the rest of his life in St Francis Xavier’s Church in Gardiner Street Upper. Because work began at 6am he went to 5am Mass. A church was the only place in all of Dublin where he felt safe from himself. He decided he would fight his struggle in the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. He decided to stay away from the pub and his drinking friends. That meant taking a different route home from work every evening. Since he had stayed awake so long every night drinking, he now decided he would still only give himself the same four hours sleep every night, except that now he spent his nights reading spiritual books and praying. He especially loved reading the lives of the saints. Having remained sober for three months he took the pledge for another three months. His thumping headaches and emotional turmoil began to subside and he felt new hope rise within. His sister Mary was convinced of his conversion because since the day he stopped drinking he also stopped cursing. That reminds me of our first reading today (8th Sunday Year C), “the test of a man is in his conversation” (Ecclesiasticus 24:7) and the last lines of today’s Gospel where Jesus says, “A good man draws what is good from the store of goodness in his heart; a bad man draws what is bad from the store of badness. For a man’s words flow out of what fills his heart.” (Luke 6)

At the end of the second three months he took the pledge for a year and at the end of the year he took the pledge for life. He wanted to do penance to make up for his sixteen years of drinking. He slept on boards with a block of wood for his pillow and holed the knees of his trousers so that when he knelt he would have no protection from the hard wood. He fasted a lot and ate only enough food to stay alive. He also gave a lot of his weekly wages to charities. He used to have a quick temper especially after drinking but now he was mellowing. He joined the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association when it was founded in 1898. Although now he was a very spiritual person he did not want to be known as such but people could see the profound change that had occurred in him. For example, what most upset him was using the name of Jesus as a curse. Whenever that happened he lifted his cap as a sign of reverence to the name of ‘Jesus’ and he would take a crucifix out of his pocket and say, “Look at the One you are insulting.” As well as giving up drink he also gave up smoking but the extent of his penance was only discovered after his death. He had chains around his body embedded into his flesh.

His story is a beautiful story of conversion and shows us that a very ordinary person can totally transform. He died on his way to Sunday Mass on 7 June 1925 in Granby Lane (a plaque on the wall marks the spot). He was declared Venerable in 1973, which is a step on the way to canonization. Hopefully some day he will be the patron saint of addicts. Many favors have been attributed to his intercession so on this Temperance Sunday why not pray to Matt Talbot for help in overcoming problems. You can see his coffin behind glass in Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Sean McDermott Street.

I will conclude with part of the prayer for his canonization:

"Lord, in your servant Matt Talbot you have given us a wonderful example of triumph over addiction, of devotion to duty, and of lifelong reverence for the Most Holy Sacrament. May his life of prayer and penance give us courage to take up our crosses and follow in the footsteps of Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ."

This homily was delivered when I was engaged in parish ministry in Ireland before joining the faculty of Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, Emmitsburg, Maryland.

(Other stories of addiction overcome through prayer) by Fr. Tommy Lane


Friday, November 23, 2007

Matt Talbot - The Workers' Saint

Mary Gaffney tells the story of Matt Talbot, a Dubliner who struggled with a drink problem, then led a severe ascetical life, and became known after his death as the Workers' Saint.
As a child I used to go on holiday to an aunt who lived in Parnell Square, Dublin, and every morning would attend Mass in St. Saviour's Church, Dominick Street. To get to Dominick St, I would walk through Granby Lane, where I would stop to pray at the spot where Matt Talbot, the Workers' Saint, died. It was during those years that I developed a devotion to him that has lasted to this day.

Last week I returned to Granby Lane, and again stood praying at the spot where he died. A cross on railings denotes the spot where he fell, and across the street, on the walls of the Salvation Army Hostel, is a marble tablet bearing the inscription: 'Matt Talbot collapsed and died on Trinity Sunday, June 7,1925.' His cause of beatification and canonisation was introduced in Rome in May, 1947.

Matt Talbot was one of 12 children - eight sons and four daughters - of Charles and Elizabeth Talbot. He was born at 13 Aldboro Court on May 2, 1856, and was baptised in the Pro-Cathedral three days later. He attended St. Lawrence O'Toole's Christian Brothers School for brief periods and later O'Connell Schools at North Richmond Street, which he left at the age of 12.

Road to drunkenness

Matt then went to work as a messenger boy with the firm of Messrs Edward and John Burke, wine merchants, North Lotts, Dublin, which did an extensive bottling business for Guinness and Youngers. Before he was a year in the store, he returned home drunk one evening. His father gave him a beating, removed him from Burke’s, and got him a job as a messenger boy in the Port and Docks Board, where he was in charge of the bonded stores. Sadly, it was a case of ‘out of the frying pan, into the fire’. In Burke’s the drink was stout; in the stores of the Port and Docks, it was whiskey. The men in the bonded stores gave young Matt whiskey to drink, and thus began his road to drunkenness.

At 17 he became a bricklayer's labourer with Pembertons, the building contractors. He was an excellent workman and a great timekeeper but after work he would go with companions to neighbouring public houses and shebeens to drink until closing time or until the money was spent.

Pawning and stealing

Sometimes on Saturdays, pay day, he would give his 18 shillings wages to the owner of a public house. It would be drunk by Tuesday, and when the money was gone, he would pawn his boots to buy drink, and walk home in his stockinged feet. On one occasion, when drinking with friends, a fiddler joined them. When the money was running short, Matt took the fiddle and pawned it. He then returned with the money and bought more drink. It wasn't until the party broke up that the fiddler realised that his means of livelihood was gone. Years later Matt searched the city for the fiddler and, not finding him, had Masses offered as restitution.

But, no matter how much drink he had the night before, he was always in time for work at 6 a.m.

Changed his life

When Matt was 28 years old, an incident occurred that changed his entire life. For a week he had stayed away from work, drinking heavily. Saturday found him sober, thirsty and penniless. But confident that his workmates, for whom he had often bought drink, would come to his assistance, he stood with his brother near O'Meara's pub on the North Strand to meet his colleagues coming from Pembertons. The men passed in twos and threes but none stopped to ask the brothers to have a drink. Matt said later that he was "cut to the heart" by this treatment and went home.

His mother, preparing the midday meal, looked up with surprise, and exclaimed, "Matt, you're home early and you're sober." After the meal, he turned to his mother and said, "I'm going to take the pledge." As he left the house she said, gently, "God give you strength to keep it." Matt went to Holy Cross Church and, according to his own account, went to confession and took the pledge from Rev. Dr. Keane. He kept that pledge until his death 41 years later.
From that time on he attended Mass daily at 5 a.m. in St Francis Xavier's church, Upper Gardiner Street, before going to work at 6a.m.. After his evening meal at home he walked to a church on the north side of the city, either St. Peter's, Phibsboro, or Berkeley Road, where he prayed until it was time to go to bed. This was to avoid the temptation of meeting his former drinking companions as the effort to quell the craving for drink was causing him immense suffering.
Every week evening, every Saturday afternoon, and every Sunday morning was spent in church. He gave up all company and confided only in his mother. When Fr. John Cullen, a Jesuit priest attached to Gardiner Street Church, founded the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association in 1898 Matt became one of its first members.

Prayer and mortification

Matt Talbot mortified himself rigorously. He slept on a plank bed with a piece of timber for a pillow. This left his face numb in later years. He slept in chains which he wore for 14 years before his death, round his leg and on his body.

He prayed each night from 2 to 4 a.m., then dressed and prayed again until it was time to leave for Mass in St. Francis Xavier's church. He would arrive at 5am, if not earlier, and would kneel in prayer at the church's iron railings, waiting for it to open. On entering he would kneel and kiss the ground, then make the Stations of the Cross.
In 1892 Matt took up employment as a bricklayer's labourer with the firm of T & C Martin, on the North Wall, where he remained until his death. He fasted constantly. His breakfast consisted of cocoa prepared the previous evening by his sister, which he often drank cold. With this he ate some dry bread. For his midday meal he had cocoa to which he would add a pinch of tea, and again drank cold. With this he took a slice of bread. His sister would bring him a small evening meal. If she brought fish he would insist that she take it home with her and would make do with bread soaked in the fish juice.
On Sundays he remained in the church for every Mass. Only on returning to his room at about 2 p.m. would he break his fast for the first time since 6.30 p.m. the previous day. The remainder of the day was spent in prayer, reading the Scriptures and the lives of the saints. He gave all his money to neighbours in need and to the missions.

Collapsed and died

Matt was on his way to Mass in St. Saviour's on Trinity Sunday, June 7, 1925, when he collapsed and died on Granby Lane. A paragraph in The Irish Independent of the following day stated, "An elderly man collapsed in Granby Lane yesterday and, on being taken to Jervis Street Hospital, was found to be dead. He was wearing a tweed suit, but there was nothing to indicate who he was."
He was buried the following Thursday, the feast of Corpus Christi, in Glasnevin Cemetery.
In 1952 Matt Talbot's remains were exhumed and transferred to a double coffin bearing the inscription, 'The Servant of God, Matthew Talbot.' The coffin was placed in a vault in the central circle of the cemetery to which pilgrims began to flock from all over the world.
In 1972 Matt Talbot's remains were removed to the Church of Our Lady of Lourdes in Sean McDermott Street. The tomb has a glass panel through which the coffin may be seen. .

This article first appeared in Reality (July/August 1999), a Redemptorist Publication.