Thursday, February 28, 2008

"A Fiddler in Granby Lane"

Besides "Talbot's Box" another play about Matt Talbot is "A Fiddler in Granby Lane." It was staged in San Jose, California, in May, 1999.

NORA VILLAGRAN, Mercury News Staff Writer

IN THIS era of cinematic violence and TV trash talk, San Jose's Quo Vadis Theatre Company offers audiences something unusual.

A Catholic theater company, Quo Vadis aims to produce family-oriented plays with moral messages and universal appeal.

''Stories about inspiring, courageous people can help mold minds and shape character in positive ways,'' says playwright Cathal Gallagher, one of the company's founders. ''I believe audiences want to see what is noble in human beings, rather than what is destructive. The Judeo-Christian ethic is being replaced by the 'Jerry Springer Show.' We, as artists, have a responsibility to put on plays that enrich and ennoble the human spirit.''

With these goals, the company is presenting Gallagher's new play, ''A Fiddler in Granby Lane,'' based on the life of Matt Talbot, an alcoholic in Dublin, Ireland, at the turn of the century who strove to overcome his fierce addiction through faith and service to others. The production opens Wednesday at the Sunnyvale Community Center and continues through May 29.

''Fiddler'' is the second production for the company, co-founded in 1996 by Gallagher and run by volunteers.

In the drama, Talbot helps steal a violin from a fiddler to sell for drinking money. Later, filled with remorse, he seeks out the musician to repay him. The story explores the roles of conscience and restitution in redemption from past transgressions. Talbot serves as a role model for how one can escape alcoholism or other human downfalls.

Family Focus

It's a play, says assistant director Pat Cross, that ''goes beyond religion. Even at the lowest rung, you can bring your life around.'' It's a play parents can see with their teenagers, who may be facing adolescent temptations, adds Cross, 52.

''Matt Talbot's life revolved around alcohol from the age of 13,'' she says. ''But at 28, he made a dramatic change and went on to help a! nd positively influence others. Long before AA and self-help programs, he did this with his own faith and determination.''

The cast, directed by Rick Frank, features Michael Kane, Mary Elizabeth O'Connor, Sinead Mahoney, Karie Vaughan, Ted Hatrak, Paula Mahoney, Joe Parks, Todd O'Donnell, Dan O'Connell and Mark Lynch as Talbot.

Like Talbot, Lynch comes from Dublin. ''It's been tough and emotional at times (in rehearsals),'' says the actor, ''because alcoholism is something many people in Ireland have either witnessed or experienced in their own family.''

Now living in San Francisco, Lynch, 25, chuckles over the thousands of miles he crossed to distance himself from his Irish Catholic roots, only to be portraying an Irish alcoholic who turns to his faith for redemption.

''I always had issues with Catholicism, growing up,'' says Lynch, an exhibition design director. ''So it's kind of strange to (be in rehearsal) and be saying the prayers in the play I've said myself along the way -- though it's been quite a long time ! since I've said them.''

Lynch sees the play's message as one of hope. ''It's also about how one person's actions can affect a whole family -- and others, as well,'' he says.

Getting people thinking and talking about faith was part of Gallagher's vision when he thought of starting the company. ''We have something unique in the Catholic Church -- great dramas about Joan of Arc, Thomas More and (Thomas a) Becket -- and I wanted to put these stories on the stage,'' he says.

Gallagher, 60, comes from Ireland's rural County Donegal. ''We are a people known for two things: our social conscience and our literary ability. I thought I'd put them to good use and write plays.''

The company's name comes from the biblical quote attributed to St. Peter, says Gallagher. ''Quo vadis means, 'Where are you going?' ''

Earlier Effort

Gallagher's first play for Quo Vadis was ''The Pearl of York,'' about a 16th-century woman who became a Catholic martyr. It was also directed by Frank.

The company is not affiliated wit h a particular Catholic diocese, but rehearsals often take place at St. Frances Cabrini in San Jose and St. Joseph of Cupertino Church. Members of the board of directors are Catholic, he says, ''so we can keep our vision of what we want to produce. But the cast can be of any faith or no faith.''

''The company's goals,'' he adds ''are family entertainment without profanity -- and entertainment you can learn something from. I know this runs against the popular culture. But some of the language you hear in plays and movies today -- you wouldn't hear from a dockworker; my apologies to dockworkers.

''We believe you can show conflict and tension in a play without resorting to the f-word. You can bring your grandmother to our plays, and she won't be offended.''


Wednesday, February 27, 2008

"Talbot's Box"

For a different perspective of Matt Talbot than from his biographers, there is a play written by Thomas Kilroy, titled "Talbot's Box." It was first performed at Abbey Theatre, Dublin, in 1977 and first published in 1979. The following is from the publisher and appears on the back cover of the book:

Catholic ascetic Matt Talbot, the "workers' saint" (1856-1925), provokes Kilroy's ingenious examination of the idea of sanctity in the modern world. The very incorporation of penance and spiritual search, his conversion from alcoholism to prayer, fasting and self-mortification is sketched in the textured resonances of the idiom of the Dublin streets and in the soaring lyrical versions of the final visions -- all while Talbot's coffin remains on stage. in the words of the playwright, Talbot's Box is "a play about aloneness, its cost to the person, and the kind of courage required to sustain it."

Publisher: Gallery Books
Publish date: Mar 1997, New Edition
ISBN-13: 9781852351984
ISBN-10: 1852351985
Format: Paperback , 64 pages

In the book by Thierry Dubost, The Plays of Thomas Kilroy: A Critical Kilroy (2007), which includes interviews with the playwright, Thomas Kilroy notes that he was an agnostic when he wrote this play (and is one now), and his purpose in writing this play was to attack Matt Talbot and"to write a work of satire, of mockery." He claims that "what emerged was something entirely different." What that "difference" is, you, the reader, will decide.

On February 1, 2008, Kilroy was awarded the Irish Pen/AT Cross Literary Award for a lifetime of literary achievement.

Monday, February 25, 2008

"Wiry little Irishman still inspires faith"

By Effie Cadarola

Catholic Anchor, Anchorage, Alaska

February 8, 2008

One Sunday morning in 1925, Trinity Sunday to be exact, a man dropped dead on a Dublin street.

He was taken to a mortuary where the Sisters of Mercy came to prepare his corpse for burial.

A poor man lives and dies in obscurity, and that would have been this man's fate, save for the fact that the good sisters discovered the man was covered with chains under his clothing.

According to a very old brochure (1st edition, 1926) produced by something called "The Catholic Truth Society of Ireland," the man, Matt Talbot, had "a cart chain tied twice around the body, and hung with religious medals; around one arm was a lighter chain, around the other, the cord of St. Francis; around one leg a chain similar to that which was around the arm; around the other, a rope was tied tightly."

To our modern sensibilities, this may sound peculiar, but to the sisters who cared for Matt's body, the chains were a sign of religious fervor and penitential living.

And when one of the sisters looked into the matter, she discovered a life lived humbly but with a remarkable story of conversion and sanctity.

I've always been intrigued by Matt Talbot, since the time when I was very young and found a book about him tucked away in a closet on our farm.

Since this was long before the Internet, and I lived 10 miles from a minimally well-stocked library, I sought information about Matt from what I (as a little kid) considered a good source: I wrote to the President of Ireland.

Someone on Eamon de Valera's staff sent me the funky little pamphlet I still have. Now the Internet has plenty on Matt.

Born in 1856 to a poor family in poverty-stricken Dublin, Matt quit school early to work. At the tender age of 12, he began drinking, and soon became a desperate addict: selling his own shoes for alcohol, stealing a fiddle from a man whose sole income was fiddling.

At the age of 25, humbled by what he had become, he took "the pledge," went to confession, and never drank again. By the accounts of his friends, a happy man devoted to his labor union, he led a life of monastic devotion.

Matt's cause for canonization was formally introduced in Rome in 1947. In 1973 the church declared him "venerable." It was rumored in Talbot circles that Pope John Paul II, a man who canonized more saints than any before him, had a special interest in Matt.

The next step towards canonization is "beatification" which means the church has found one verifiable miracle — a measurable, physical miracle — attributed to the intercession of that candidate. A second miracle is required for canonization.

I'm not the only person in my family intrigued by Matt.

"Matt Talbot, being the stubborn Irishman he is, has never produced any physical miracles," writes my cousin Mary Costello, who has written about Matt and worked for his cause for years. "But we have literally thousands of stories about people who have sobered up due to their own prayers or the prayers of someone who loves them."

"I have a couple in my own life!" she added.

I have some intercessions pending with Matt myself. There's something appealing about the wiry little Irishman — so he's described — who spent his life looking for that fiddler to repay and never found him.

There's a section on Matt Talbot in Kenneth Woodward's book, "Making Saint," and at, you can find information about my cousin Mary's book, "A Little Book about Matt Talbot."

The writer is a stewardship and hospitality coordinator at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church in Anchorage


Sunday, February 24, 2008

"Things Saint What They Used To Be"

While Mother Teresa, Pope John Paul II, and Sr. Lucia Dos Santos of Portugal
are on the fast-track to sainthood, Matt Talbot is not on such a list. Yet for those interested in or directly affected by alcoholism and know of him, Matt Talbot has been an example and inspiration since his death in 1925. (JB)



A LEADING Irish theologian has accused the Pope of devaluing the process of canonisation by implementing a fast track route to sainthood.

Pope John Paul II has canonised 455 saints in his period in office - more than any other Pope. He has beatified more than 1,200 putting them on the road to early sainthood.

Theologian Gina Menzies said: "He has gone out of his way to ensure that nearly every time he visits a country he canonises a local holy person. This Pope seems to be a Pope who goes for volume.

"The process of canonisation is being undermined by the numbers and speed that people are becoming saints.

"There is a real danger of devaluing the status of saints.

"Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer will be made a saint this week and he is only dead 27 years - whereas Thomas Moore was dead 400 years before he was canonised."

Fr Tom Jordan agrees: "Speedy canonisation is undervaluing the process. If you have too much of anything it isn't as valued as a rare event."

Some theologians say they are concerned that becoming a saint has a lot to do with lobby groups and less to do with popular cult appeal.

Fr Jordan said: "Some people lead lives of faith, love and charity and should be saints but are not even recognised.

"It is an exclusive club and often people with certain support have a better chance of making it.

"Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer is the founder and head of OPUS DEI so he has some very influential support - perhaps contributing to his rapid canonisation."

If you want to be a saint you will be in with a better chance if you are an Italian or Polish unmarried male member of a religious order who has a strong lobby group.

One man whose canonisation is not progressing is Dubliner Matt Talbot who is revered by many. Matt Talbot led a holy life and also overcame his alcohol addiction.

Derek Warfield from the Wolfe Tones said: "I credit Talbot for helping me give up the drink.

"In the seventies my music meant that I was around alcohol a lot. Before I even realised I had a problem I found myself dependent.

"My mother-in-law had great devotion to Talbot but I never really took it seriously. I started to read about his life and then began to pray to him - he gave me the strength to deal with my drinking problem.

"In my eyes and in the eyes of a lot of Dubliners he will always be a saint - we don't need a church in Rome to tell us he is a saint, the community can pick them out very fast."


Saturday, February 23, 2008

Lay People Need Lay Models

A response to: Instruction Stresses Need for Reputation of Sanctity

From the statistics given, of those 563 persons beatified -- and the 14 canonized -- under Benedict XVI, just a little over 5% were lay people, while they make up over 90% of Catholics. Only religious orders and dioceses have the funds to carry through the process, so, over 80% of those beatified belong to religious orders.

According to Paragraph 828 of the Catechism, by canonization the Church proposes the saints "as models and intercessors." As it is, religious orders already have more models to follow than they actually need, while there is a tremendous shortage of lay models and confessors for lay people in various roles.

The reforms introduced might be needed to simplify and streamline the procedure, but it does little to open up the process of beatification to deserving lay people, parents who work hard in their important role as teachers, workers, and the hundreds of other Catholics who should serve as beatified role models for the other hundreds of millions of lay people, but whose families lack the funds that rich dioceses or religious orders have.

If a lay person, searching for lay models, may make proposals, I would suggest further reforms: Set up and finance a pontifical commission to search for lay confessors, and insist that no more than half of those beatified in a given year be from the clergy and religious orders.

As a retired college professor living in the United States, a husband for over 50 years, a father of seven and grandfather of 19, I cannot find a proper role model and intercessor for myself in any of these roles, or for my children and grandchildren among either the American saints, or those 563 beatified by the Holy Father. Yet, the small numbers of religious are getting more and more models and intercessors. I think, with all the attention paid to ecumenism, the Church, more specifically the Vatican, should pay more attention to the needs of her own flock.

In Christ,

Sandor Balogh, Ph. D., Prof. emeritus

Matt Talbot would certainly be a deserving lay person for the millions affected by alcoholism worldwide. (JB)

Friday, February 22, 2008

Pope John Paul II wanted to beatify Matt Talbot

In this 2005 homily the homilist recounts a memory of three people who Pope John Paul II said he wanted to beatify.
The key paragraph follows:

He invited the bishops to lunch, half of us one day, the other half the next. These were very relaxed and informal occasions. He told us that he would dearly love to beatify three people, Damien of Monokai, Cardinal Newman and Matt Talbot. He had written a biography of Matt in Polish in his young days. He asked us to pray for a miracle since Matt’s example could be very valuable for those who are addicted to alcohol and drugs. Damien is canonised and Newman is beatified but Matt Talbot is still awaiting a miracle.


Finding a miracle attributed to Matt Talbot

According to this brief November, 2002 news item at, a miracle attributed to Matt Talbot was rejected by the Vatican. It is surprising that no additional information about this important story has been found online.

Some months later, in July, 2003, a news item titled, "All Matt Talbot saint-maker needs is a miracle," was published and can be found at

In June, 2004, the article titled, "Bid for New Irish Saint," appeared, stating that Catholic clerics from the pulpits were appealing for people who were cured from addiction through prayers to Matt Talbot to come forward. This item can be found at

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Vatican issues new standards for sainthood

Many news sources have published articles on the new standards for sainthood this week. We await any news if this will affect the cause of Matt Talbot. (JB)

Cardinal explains reasons for new standards for sainthood

Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins

.- Today the prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins presented the anticipated Instruction, “Sanctorum Mater” to increase the rigor of the sainthood process.

The new restrictions are expected to diminish the number of candidates proposed to the Vatican for recognition.

In his remarks, the Portuguese cardinal explained that the Instruction is divided into six sections.

“The first draws attention to the need for a true reputation of holiness before beginning a process, and explains the duties and roles of the petitioner, the postulator and the competent bishop,” the cardinal said.

“The second part describes the preliminary phase of the cause which extends as far as the 'Nihil Obstat' of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.” The ‘Nihil Obstat’ is a status given to the works of the person in question which certifies that nothing in their teachings contradicts the teachings of the Church.

“The third section concerns the instruction of the cause. The fourth part concentrates on the gathering of documentary proof and the fifth on the gathering of proof from witnesses. Finally, the sixth section of the document outlines the procedures for the closing of the inquiry,” he explained.

Cardinal Martins also explained the need for the publication of the document. “In some dioceses, certain provisions of the law have not always been understood and, consequently, not been put into practice with the necessary meticulousness, which has sometimes made it necessary for the congregation to supply clarifications or to ask diocesan curias to correct errors.”

He continued, “dioceses do not always have access to specialized individuals with practical experience of the various procedures involved in a cause of canonization.” For this reason, “it is evident that a practical document, such as this Instruction, was useful, indeed necessary.”

The new norms are also expected to clear up confusion regarding the methodology of the process.

“When the current legislation on causes of saints came into force,” said the cardinal outlining another reason for the publication of the present document, “an unfounded idea became widespread that the traditional methodology ... had been substituted by some kind of historical-critical investigation.”

The reason for this confusion was “the fact that the term 'inquisitio' used in Latin (the only official text) to designate the procedure of the diocesan phase of a cause of canonization was translated in Italian as 'inchiesta' (inquiry)". The new Instruction, then, highlights "the importance of procedure" in causes of beatification and canonization, "and accurately highlights the norms that must be observed."

A final reason for issuance of the document is to emphasize the significance of the “fame of sanctity or martyrdom.”

According to Cardinal Martins, some dioceses or others promoting a potential saint’s cause were not aware that a reputation for holiness “is a prior requirement of absolute importance.”

Lest a person’s reputation for sanctity be built up by their cause for sainthood being introduced, the cardinal insisted that “a procedure must not begin without irrefutable proof that the Servant of God ... is held to be a saint or martyr by a considerable number of faithful, who invoke him or her in their prayers and attribute graces and favors to his or her intercession.”

During the pontificate of Benedict XVI, there have been 20 beatification ceremonies during which 563 Servants of God were beatified, including 48 diocesan priests, 485 male and female religious, and 30 lay people, for a total of 509 men and 54 women.

The canonization ceremonies celebrated thus far during the pontificate of Benedict XVI number four (three in Rome and one in Brazil), during which 14 people were canonized.

According to the Press Office of the Holy See, the current total of saints and blesseds of Pope Benedict’s pontificate is 577.


Friday, February 15, 2008

The 1913 Strike and Lockout

Matt was a labourer throughout his life and a member of the Irish Transport and General Workers' Union, which was formed in 1908. Perhaps the most detailed discussion about Matt and this "big" or "great" strike as his biographer, Mary Purcell, refers to it can be found in Chapter 10 of her book, Matt Talbot and His Times (1977). She discusses not only the labour conditions but also includes many lengthy quotes by those who knew Matt at that time. Matt sought the advise of his confessor, read extensively on labour related topics, and financially helped fellow workers with families.

A search of this website notes those writings that include reference to the strike. For one of many Google references to this strike and lockout, see

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The 1916 Rising

For those who are interested in Irish history during Matt Talbot's later years, the National Library of Ireland has an online exhibition, The 1916 Rising: Personalities and Perspectives.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Matt Talbot's listing in the 1911 Dublin census

The National Archives of Ireland has information online about the 1901 and 1911
census, which "are the only surviving full censuses of Ireland open to the public."
This census was taken in April 1911, and includes the names of Matt Talbot and his mother, Elizabeth. Basic information about how this census was conducted is available at

Following the death of Charles Talbot, Matt's Father, in 1899, Matt and his mother lived together in one basement room at #18 Upper Rutland Street, Dublin, from 1903 until her death in 1915. Matt continued to live there alone until his death in 1925.
In viewing this next link, look to the right of the document under "Families" and then down to the eighth name under "head of household." You will find Elizabeth Talbot's name along with one other unidentified family member. That other family member is Matt.
Besides the Talbot's you will see that there were five other families totally 16 persons who lived in one or two rooms per family at this address.

This link shows the typed names and ages of Elizabeth and Matt at the time of the census.

This link provides handwritten information about the Talbot's. You will note that Matthew is spelled with only one "t." Under "Education," "read and write" is filled in for Matt and "neither" is listed for his mother. Two other categories indicate that both are Roman Catholic and Matt a "labourer."(A separate document from this census indicates that all families living at this address were Roman Catholic.)

Dublin in 1911

In order to begin to understand the world in which Matt Talbot lived in 1911 and the decade ahead of significant historical changes in Dublin and Ireland, The National Archives of Ireland have put together online, in text and photographs, fifteen themes of life at that time. Matt is specifically mentioned in a few of these themes.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Matt Talbot noted in select historical Catholic writings on alcoholism

There is a wealth of current and historical Catholic writings about alcoholism and Alcoholics Anonymous. Each of the six articles linked here include a reference to Matt Talbot.

The source for these articles is
(This AA history site is dedicated to William D. Silkworth, M.D., author of "The Doctor's Opinion" that appears in the book, Alcoholics Anonymous.

The Prevention of Alcoholism - A Challenge to the Catholic Clergy
The Prevention of Alcoholism - A Challenge to the Catholic Clergy - William D. Silkworth, M.D., New York City, Rensselaer, 1950. The 'Blue Book' -National Clergy Conference on Alcoholism, 1960.
URL: - 32KB -

Alcoholics Anonymous, THE SIGN, Vol. 25: 14-16, July, 1946
URL: - 43KB -

URL: - 44KB -

Spirituality, Religiosity and Alcoholism, AMERICA, Vol. 136: 458-461, May 21, 1977
URL: - 45KB -

URL: - 47KB -

Alcoholics Anonymous, Liguorians, 1960

The premier site to read Catholic writings on alcoholism and Alcoholics Anonymous is by the National Catholic Council on Alcoholism at

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Matt Talbot - A Man for Our Times

"This leaflet, written by Rita Akerman, tells the inspirational and challenging story of Venerable Matt Talbot, the humble Dublin timber-yard worker who died in 1925."

View and download HERE (130Kb)

Monday, February 4, 2008

The "just man" in 1st Psalm

1 Salm - 1st Psalm

An tUrranach Maitiú Talbot na hÉireann
Venerable Matt Talbot of Ireland

Matt Talbot rose from the depths of addiction in the poverty stricken docks of Dublin where he worked from age 12 to 28, only to live a life of heroic sanctity thereafter. He came to personify the just man sung of in the words of this psalm. In 1975 he was named Venerable by the church which is the step before Blessed and Sainthood.


de chomhairle lucht na héagráifeachta;
nach seasann i slí na bpeacach,
agus nach suíonn i gcuideachta na sotalach;


Happy the man who follows not
the counsel of the wicked
nor walks in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the company of the insolent

2. ach a bhfuil a dhúil i ndlí an Tiarna, agus
a dhéanann machnamh air de lá agus d’oíche.

But delights in the law of the Lord
and meditates on his law day and night

3. Is cosúil an duine sin le crann
a plandaíodh ar bhruach na habhann,
a thugann a thoradh go tráthúil
agus nach bhfeonn a dhuilleoga choíche.
Bíonn an rath ar gach aon ní dá ndéanann sé.

He is like a tree
planted near running water,
that yields its fruit in due season,
and whose leaves never fade.
Whatever he does, prospers.

4. Ní amhlaidh do na héagráifigh, ní amhlaidh!
ach mar cháith a scaiptear le gaoth.

Not so the wicked, not so;
they are like chaff which the wind drives away.

5. Ionas nach seasfaidh na héagráifigh sa bhreithiúnas
ná na peacaigh i gcomhthionól na bhfíréan.

Therefore in judgment the wicked
shall not stand
nor shall sinners, in the assembly of the just.

6. Óir is cúram don Tiarna slí na bhfíréan,
ach rachaidh slí na n-éagráifeach ar ceal.

For the Lord watches over the way of the just,
but the way of the wicked perishes.


Sunday, February 3, 2008

National Catholic Council on Alcoholism Website

Although the NCCA website does not focus on Matt Talbot, there is a wealth of older and current articles and presentations from a Catholic and AA perspective on addiction that are online or can be purchased.

The free 20-page pocket/purse-size booklet titled, "Prayers for Addicted Persons and Their Loved Ones," is a worthwhile resource.

Historical Perspective of Father Ralph Pfau and the NCCA

Adapted from a talk by Monsignor William J. Clausen at the 50th anniversary celebration of the NCCA in 1999. Monsignor Clausen is pastor of Saint Mary Church, Maple Park, Illinois, a former board member and past president of the NCCA.

The first diocesan policy addressing alcoholism among priests and men and women religious was promulgated in Chicago in 1966. Father Ralph Pfau, the founder of the National Catholic Council on Alcoholism, died in 1967. Thank God Father Pfau lived to see the first large diocese in the United States bring this problem out into the open and devise a plan to deal with it.

On August 23-25, 1949, the first gathering of NCCA took place at Saint Joseph's College in Rensselaer, Indiana. It was hosted by Bishop John G. Bennett of Lafayette, Indiana, with Archbishop Paul Schulte of Indianapolis in attendance. Bishop John Cody also attended representing Archbishop Joseph Ritter of St. Louis. Bishop Cody later would become the Archbishop of Chicago. Is it surprising that one of few bishops to be at the first NCCA Conference was the first Bishop to have a promulgated policy?

"By Divine Providence, I became the first priest-member of Alcoholics Anonymous back in 1943."
Father Pfau became the first priest to sober up through Alcoholics Anonymous. "By Divine Providence, I became the first priest-member of Alcoholics Anonymous back in 1943. And those of you who know my story know I wasn't too willing at the time . . . and 14 years later, by the grace of God and the help of AA, I can say, 'I am sober today,'" (Alcoholism: A Source Book for the Priest, 1960).

In this talk given in 1957, he describes how NCCA began. He met Father Edward Dowling, SJ, who was the first priest to approach the problem of the alcoholic through AA. He made a trip to New York City to meet Bill Wilson. In talking to Father Dowling in St. Louis in 1948, Father Pfau said: "You know . . . it would be a nice thing if we could find out who else among the clergy are in AA, because I think that priests in AA feel the need to know if there are other priests in AA," Father Dowling suggested, "Why don't you have a retreat of some kind?"

In 1949 Father Pfau approached Archbishop Schulte and Bishop Bennett not only about a gathering of priests members of AA, but also of all priests who might be interested in solving the problem of the priest alcoholic. A letter went out to all the ordinaries asking if they had any priest alcoholics. Forty-seven attended that first conference in Rensselaer, made possible through the good graces of the Fathers of the Precious Blood who today still own and staff the college. A psychiatrist, a medical doctor, and both alcoholic and non-alcoholic priests came to the conference.

Nothing but faith

Father Pfau recalled the event: "We had no idea of making it an annual affair. We did not know what was going to happen. We started on nothing but faith in Providence and a hope that something would come of it."

From the start Father wanted laymen there. Even though the first conference was not open to the laity, laity always have attended: those interested in the priest alcoholic such as psychiatrists, doctors and AA members. Father Pfau wanted the lay attitude toward the priest alcoholic problem to be shared.

For four years the conference was held at Rensselaer. Then the board decided it would be better to move the conference each year to give local clergy a chance to participate in the discussions. It also would give NCCA a chance to disseminate what was learned about alcoholism. So once they "got their act together" at Rensselaer, they took the show to the big city — Jamaica, New York; then Boston, Kansas City, Missouri; and so on . . .

For the first 10 years of the NCCA the focus was on coming to grips with alcoholism as more than a moral problem. Alcoholism is described in detail as a disease that responds to treatment and the power of AA. The unique and delicate position of the alcoholic priest is emphasized. The need for bishops and priests to understand the nature of this disease and for seminarians to be well educated about the malady is stressed.

Many people did not understand alcoholism as a disease. Father Pfau was not alone in his misunderstanding.
The record of NCCA proceedings from the gathering at the Statler Hilton in Buffalo, New York, April 27-28, 1965, has Father Pfau sharing this insight: "I personally had convinced myself that one could not become an alcoholic unless one drank in the morning. So I would take barbitals, bromides, ASA, what-have-you until noon — then I could drink to my heart's content and not be an alcoholic. Many times I poured the drink in the kitchen at eight o'clock in the morning after Mass, and hour after hour I would paddle out and look at it until noon, and then 'down the hatch.' I wasn't an alcoholic because I didn't drink in the morning!" Many people did not understand alcoholism as a disease. Father Pfau was not alone in his misunderstanding.

Father Pfau believed that priests in AA felt the need to know if there were other priests in AA. He knew from personal experience the stigma attached to alcoholism, which made it hard for priests to get help. For a number of years at NCCA gatherings, there was a Pastoral Institute on Alcoholism and also a Clergy Conference. Volume XIX of The Blue Book, -- NCCA's record of its annual symposia -- contained the proceedings of the XIXth National Clergy Council on Alcoholism, but also the Ninth Annual Pastoral Institute. They are described as follows:

"The National Clergy Council on Alcoholism meets annually to conduct two separate and distinct projects: the first is The Pastoral Institute on Alcohol Problems; the second is The Conference itself.

"The Pastoral Institute does not discuss or deal with personal problems of priests. It treats only of their professional problems. All priests who are engaged in the care of souls frequently encounter cases of alcoholism and of excessive drinking. The Pastoral Institute is presented to help priests deal with the problems intelligently and successfully. Its sessions are publicized and open to all priests and students of theology in major seminaries.

"The Conference deals primarily with priests' personal problems. Consequently its sessions are not to be publicized, although they are open to all priests who take an interest in these special problems. Laymen may attend only by special invitation from the Board of Directors."

The last time the annual NCCA meeting was divided in this manner was in 1968.

In 1969 laymen Richard Caron and Gerard Weidman are listed as board members. In 1972, Mrs. Marge Klemm and Mrs. David Worrell were named as committee members, and in 1974, Sister Therese Golden, OP, became a member of the board. Father Pfau always was concerned that alcoholic nuns were in a delicate position.

National Catholic Council

In 1971, the "Twenty-third National Clergy Conference on Alcoholism" was held. However, in that same year, the members of Board of Directors were listed under the title "National Clergy Council on Alcoholism." In 1985, a resolution was introduced to change the name of the organization to the National Catholic Council on Alcoholism to show that membership included laity among its leadership as well as men and women religious. The resolution passed at the 1988 NCCA gathering at St. Louis. Today the NCCA is the National Catholic Council on Alcoholism and Related Drug Problems, Inc. (The "Related Drug Problems" was added to the title in 1974.)

In 1974 a special outreach to men and women religious was under way. Also, the format had changed from a lecture style symposium to a workshop approach. A few years earlier at the insistence of Father John Ford, other family victims of alcoholism were included in the symposium.

The NCCA is a work in progress.
The NCCA is a work in progress. Conferences over the years have had attendance of more than 200 or fewer than 50. The council has been both ignored and consulted. Bishop Bennett in the 1950s encouraged and supported an organization that many viewed as unnecessary and unwanted. Cardinal Anthony Bevilaqua in the 1990s has encouraged and supported an organization many say variously has done its work or is past its prime. The Cardinal said in1999: "May God continue to bless you and your important mission!" Struggle and conflict have been mixed with hope and healing, and a commitment to carry the message today to a Church greatly in need of hearing it. The NCCA has never sought for recognition and indeed has never had it. It has, however, endured.

An important part of NCCA history has been the Society of Matt Talbot Guild — publishing the books and supporting the NCCA through the work of Marge Klemm, Pat Worrell, Josephine Pfau, Mary Pfau and her husband Ralph, and their dear friend Marge McMahon. They went to close things up at the SMT Guild in 1968 when Father Pfau died, yet they were still going 30 years later in 1998 when they turned over the publishing to the Hazelden Foundation. Father Pfau's retreat work was his major activity until his death. The SMT publications grew out of that as well as the records and tapes.

In the modern era, Monsignor Kieran Martin took over as Secretary/Treasurer at the NCCA Office in Brooklyn and brought fiscal discipline to the organization. The board has reviewed its duties and made revisions to the constitution. The Knights of Columbus have been a mainstay of needed support over the years. A trust from the estate of the Mr. and Mrs. Theo Vanneman has been a Godsend.

The NCCA is especially indebted to Father Ralph Pfau for his faith and courage. "We did not know what was going to happen," he said. "We started on nothing but faith in Providence and a hope that something would come of it."

A testimonial to God's grace

All of Father Pfau's work was a testimonial to God's grace. He knew when he got sober in AA that a miracle took place. He was still an alcoholic and a neurotic, but he could live in sobriety and he could live fairly well adjusted. He did live a full and productive life. When he died sober of viral hepatitis early Sunday morning, February 19, 1967, at Our Lady of Mercy Hospital in Owensboro, Kentucky, he was at peace.

He had just learned that his last book, The Golden Book of Sanctity, had been approved for publication. The book notes three levels of sanctity:

"Heroic sanctity — in which classification we find such stalwart man and women of history as St. Paul, the apostles, the martyrs, and the like: all of whom accomplished great deeds perfectly both in view of God and man."

"Solemn sanctity — in this class we find the long list of canonized saints." ". . . all the saints did whatever they had to do — perfectly." He cites St. Therese of Lisieux as an example of "perfection in simple daily life [which] also takes heroism."

"Simple sanctity — Here we should find the rest of the vast human race — you and you and you and me! It is not a special vocation, it is a universal vocation to all mankind — to be saints, to be perfect."

Father Pfau described this simple sanctity: "It means first and foremost that we must accept ourselves as we are — today: good or bad, sinner or saint, ignorant or educated, screwball or alcoholic (or both), rich or poor, Catholic, Protestant, Jew, agnostic, single, married . . . exactly whatever we are now." The perfection God expects is in our being willing to let God approve of me, sanction me today. "We must admit and accept ourselves as we are and God will do the rest in His time and His way."

© Copyright 2000 National Catholic Council on Alcoholism and Related Drug Problems, Inc.


Saturday, February 2, 2008

"Sons of Matt Talbot"

"Sons of Matt Talbot" was an organization founded in 1946 in Indianapolis, Indiana by Fr. Ralph Pfau. It was created for Catholic alcoholics who had achieved sobriety through Alcoholics Anonymous and wanted to better understand their Catholic faith.
Non-Catholic recovering alcoholics were also welcome to join. Fr. Pfau clearly stated that this group was not an AA activity nor associated with AA.

We are grateful to Amy Filiabeau, AA World Services Archives Director, and Michelle Mirza, Assistant Archivist, for providing a copy of this rare pamphlet, "Sons of Matt Talbot."

To read this pdf pamphlet after downloading and viewing the cover page "Coat of Arms," click your "View" button at the top left of your screen, drop down to click "rotate view," and lastly click "counterclockwise."

"Sons of Matt Talbot" Pamphlet.pdf
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Fr. Ralph Pfau

Matt Talbot's life has inspired countless people throughout the world since his death in 1925. One such person was a young priest from Indianapolis, Indiana.

Fr. Ralph Pfau (1904-1967) was the first U.S. Catholic priest to join Alcoholics Anonymous in 1943, on his 39th birthday. His books were published under the auspices of the "Society of Matt Talbot Guild." He founded an organization called the "Sons of Matt Talbot" for recovering alcoholics who wanted to learn more about the Catholic faith and also founded what is now "The National Catholic Council on Alcoholism..." Its website is

provides information about Fr. Pfau's publications, the bibliographical article,"Fr.. Ralph Pfau, aka Fr. John Doe" by Nancy O., and the article, "Ralph Pfau (Father Joe Doe) & the Golden Books: Short Outline of Life & Work" by historian Glen Chesnut.

Additional material by Professor Chesnut about Fr. Pfau is available at
Glenn F. Chesnut, "Ralph Pfau (Father John Doe) and the Golden Books," talk given at the 6th National Archives Workshop, September 29, 2001, Clarksville, Indiana-Louisville, Kentucky.
Photos of Father Ralph from the Archdiocesan Archives in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Friday, February 1, 2008

"My Name is Venerable Matt Talbot, and I'm an Alcoholic"

In this "Special Issue on Addiction Ministry" newsletter from the Office of Family Ministries of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, there are two articles of note.

On page 1 is the above title of an article by Dan Sarell that provides a useful introduction to Matt Talbot and briefly notes the influence of Matt's life on the eventual work of Indianapolis priest, Fr. Ralph Pfau, generally recognized as the first recovered priest in AA and founder of the National Catholic Council on Alcoholism and Drug Related Problems in 1948. (Note in this article that the author may be in error in reporting that Pope Benedict XVI wrote a paper on Matt when he was a boy; most sources state that it was Pope John Paul II who wrote such a paper as a boy and had hoped to be able to proclaim Matt as a patron saint of alcoholics during his life.)

The second article, "Standing on the Shoulers of a Giant," by Tom Meier on page 2 focuses solely on Fr. Ralph Pfau, who wrote Sobriety Without End and Sobriety and Beyond under the name of Fr. John Doe, which was originally published by the "Society of Matt Talbot Guild" and is now available at Hazelden.
He also wrote a series of Golden Books on recovery as well as his autobiography, Prodigal Shepherd.

OFM Newsletter Fall 2007

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