Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Matt Talbot's canonisation would be a sign of hope to addicts

By Morgan Costelloe

The Irish Times

January 14, 1997


EMMET Oliver is a freelance journalist who presented his views on the implications of the canonisation of Matt Talbot in this column last month. Unfortunately, his contribution was littered with factual errors, distortions and shallowness. {See Oliver's column below}

He told us that Mall Talbot was born in Rutland Street and that he had chains embedded in his flesh when he died. He mentioned the 1954 biography of the Dublin workman, Matt Talbot and his Times, but apparently did not read it carefully. Had he done so, he would have learned that Mall Talbot was born in Aldborough Court and did not have chains embedded in his body when he collapsed. If he wishes to research this point further, he should read the sworn evidence of Sister M. Ignatius and others at the Ordinary Process. Her observations may be read in our diocesan archives.

The cult of Mall Talbot was initiated by the poor of the inner city visiting and praying at his grave. Emmet Oliver contends that it was fostered by an oppressive church to continue "a subtle form of subjugation" of its members. "It is no wonder that Archbishop McQuaid wrote the preface to the man's biography in 1954," he writes, adding "no other figure has been more associated with the powerful, dictatorial and puritanical church of his time."

THAT outburst reveals Mr Oliver's real attitude, particularly to readers who know that Archbishop McQuaid commissioned the late Mary Purcell to write that book out of a deep personal devotion to Mall Talbot. It is worth noting that Mall Talbot was well known long before Dr McQuaid was appointed archbishop in 1940. An earlier biography by Joseph Glynn had been translated into 13 European languages by 1929.

It would be impractical to deal with all the points in Mr Oliver's article. However, I was amused by his reference to "one pamphlet about Mall Talbot" in which he informs us that a comparison is made with Tim Severin, the explorer.

He then condemns the author on the grounds that "particular emphasis is placed on his Irish nationality, which no doubt makes him a more wholesome cause for committees in the US who have championed his cause." This pamphlet deals exclusively with Mall Talbot's spirituality and places no emphasis on his nationality. I know because I wrote it: The Mystery of Matt Talbot (Irish Messenger Publications).

"You must therefore be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect," Christ told His followers. When Mall Talbot found sobriety through prayer and spiritual guidance, his desire for drink was replaced by a desire for Christian perfection.

There are many ways to this goal. He turned to Monsignor Michael Hickey, an experienced spiritual director, for advice. He chose a programme closely resembling the rule of the early Irish monasteries, which moulded the great saints of the fifth and sixth centuries. Monsignor Hickey judged that Mall Talbot was an exceptional person who was physically, psychologically and spiritually capable of following their way to God. They met weekly for many years to monitor Matt's progress.

THE principal elements in the rule of the monasteries were prayer, fasting, penance, work, study, devotion to Our Lady and missionary drive. "The Mystery of Matt Talbot" examines how and why a Dublin woman lived this rule in our own century.

It is doubtful if Mr Oliver read this pamphlet with any depth. Had he done so, he would have discovered that there was one notable exception to the rule in the case of Mall Talbot. While some early Irish monks engaged in self flagellation, that was never part of his programme.

Matt Talbot developed a deep devotion to Our Lady and was impressed by Louis Marie de Montfort's book, "True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin." The future saint stated that anyone who practised this devotion broke the chain of sin and assumed the chain of love. He suggested that such a person should wear a light chain, a bracelet, as a symbol. Mall Talbot did not settle for a bracelet. With the permission of his spiritual director, he wore chains wrapped around his body on special occasions.

Mall Talbot's ascetic practices have to be viewed against the historical selling of his time (1856-1925). There is no foundation to Emmet Oliver's opinion that they constituted "extreme self abuse." Dr Feichin O'Doherty, professor of psychology in UCD, dealt with this question in a 1977 RTE documentary and concluded that self abuse did not arise.

Mall Talbot's neighbours and workmates had no idea that he was living by a strict monastic rule. To them, he was a happy, kind, prayerful and generous man. Few knew that he was a recovered alcoholic, a former addict. He "kicked the habit" by the grace of God. His higher power was the God and faith of his childhood.

Our present Pope believes that God in his providence has raised Mall Talbot as a sign of hope for addicts. This view is shared by 50,000 members of the Mall Talbot Retreat Movement of the US.

All are recovering alcoholics. They attend regular enclosed retreats - including the many who do not share the Catholic faith - and learn that while no one is expected to emulate the ascetic life of their patron, a spiritual dimension is essential for their rehabilitation programme. As retreatant said to me once: "If Talbot can do it by the grace of God, I can do it."

Emmet Oliver wonders what the canonisation of Mall Talbot would say. The answer is found in the petition sent to Pope John Paul II on behalf of the 50,000 members requesting his beatification.

It is found also in the hundreds of reports of favours from individuals and families which I have received from many parts of the world. His canonisation would speak of a caring, compassionate church. It would give hope to addicts.

Note: Fr. Morgan Costelloe was Vice-Postulator of the Cause for Venerable Matt Talbot when this column was published.

"Working man's saint or misguided victim?"

By Emmet Oliver

The Irish Times

December 17, 1966


IN A Catholic Church of declining vocations and recent sexual scandal the search for an unblemished symbol of faith to reinvent the unsullied church of 30 or 40 years ago is ongoing.

The beatification of Edmund Rice recently focused attention on the traditions of Catholic education. The possibility of another beatification, that of Malt Talbot, may not be a cause for celebration in the same unreserved way by Catholics or people in other churches.

A couple of months ago the auxiliary Bishop of Dublin, Dr James Moriarty, spoke of Malt Talbot's example and how his canonisation would be a rich reward for a supremely devotional life.

The campaign for his canonisation is currently collecting evidence. If his beatification - the first step to canonisation - is granted, many, Catholics will reflect on what this means for the church now. The meaning of Edmund Rice's beatification to a church desperately trying, to hang on to its central role in education is obvious. It is less clear what the canonisation of Malt Talbot would say.

I remember as a schoolboy in Dublin, in the mid-1980s, being told the story of Malt Talbot. A teacher informed us that this man's life should be an inspirational model. The shock and genuine fear among our group when we heard the full story was manifest.

The story is well known to generations of Catholic children who were told the only way to stay off the drink was to copy Malt Talbot's conversion to God.

Malt Talbot was born in a drab tenement house in Rutland Street, Dublin, in 1856. He was an alcoholic from the age of 16 after he began sampling pints of porter at a bottling plant where he got his first job. Before he embarked on his penitential journey, he was known as Barney Talbot, a stereotypical hard man of Dublin pub life, who regularly drank himself into a stupor.

It is claimed his conversion came suddenly one Saturday in 1884 when he pledged to abstain from drink for three months. His future devotional practices were a way to divert his mind from a genuine addiction.

In fact he would probably never have achieved recognition within the church if it had not been for the chains which were found embedded in his skin when his dead body wash examined in hospital. Does the church hierarchy now honestly believe that people should follow Malt Talbot's example of devotion and sanctity, which included punishing himself with cords, chains, wooden pillows and plank beds?

The image of Malt Talbot wearing chains and taking the Stations of the Cross on his knees does not seem in tune with post-Vatican II ideas of religious worship and freedom or the new radical Catholic social thinking of recent years.

For most people such penitential practices are hard to imagine, even at Lough Derg. They will remind, many older people of the austerity, harshness and brutality of the early years of the State or even worse the fundamentalism of Opus Dei.

Another unsettling element in Malt Talbot's story is the relationship that existed between him and his spiritual directors. Every part of his life eventually became ruled by the guidance given to him by priests such as Dr Hickey, the then rector of Clonliffe College.

Once when a young girl proposed marriage to Talbot, he told her the answer was "no" - Our Lady had told him not to gel married. But we do not know if the advice came from a less celestial source, either Dr Hickey or another key confessor, the Jesuit Father James Walsh.

The impression one gels from these relationships is of Matt Talbot, illiterate for much of his life, being given guidance by people better educated and more comfortable in society than him. Were these people not, obliged to dissuade Talbot from trying to achieve sanctity through extreme forms of self-abuse? Would they themselves have taken the same punishing road to devotion which they recommended to this simple and unassuming working man?

Malt Talbot was trying during all this to replicate the ascetic environment of a monastery. A book called True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin by the 18th-century French saint Louis Grignon de Montfort - which is also one of Pope John Paul II's favourite devotional books - gave him the idea for the chains and self-punishment.

The dark stories which have emerged from homes and orphanages like Goldenbridge remind us what Catholicism often meant in practice in the early and middle part of this century. Far from Matt TaIbot being the working man's saint, his form of devotion and the authoritarian mindset which controlled the church then exemplify all the things that kept the working man in a subtle form of subjugation.

In one pamphlet produced about Matt Talbot, a comparison is drawn between his spiritual achievements and the seafaring achievements off the explorer Tim Severin, who emulated the Brendan voyage, using an exact replica of the saint's leather boat.

Another description of Talbot's efforts in the same pamphlet is that he engaged in "no half measures". Particular emphasis is placed on his Irish nationality, which no doubt makes him a more wholesome cause for committees in the US who have championed his cause.

It is no wonder that Archbishop John Charles McQuaid wrote the preface to the man's biography in 1954. No other figure has been more associated with the powerful, dictatorial and puritanical church of the time. It is known that from the comfort of his palatial residence, he regarded Malt Talbot's life with some awe.

Is it possible that Matt Talbot was a victim of the ethos that Archbishop McQuaid came to represent? But more importantly would a canonisation now offer some kind of retrospective approval for those values?

Monday, November 29, 2010

"Matt Talbot, hope for addicts"

By Brian Hooks

The Catholic Weekly (Sydney)

7 October 2001

Pope Paul said in 1977 he was keen to beatify Venerable Matthew Talbot, Hope of Addicts, within a year or two.

And Pope John Paul II is equally supportive.

But the struggle goes on, as Dublin priest Fr Morgan Costelloe, Vice-Postulator for the cause of Matt Talbot, scours the world for evidence of the physical miracle the Vatican requires.

Fr Costelloe began his work in 1974 and is the third man to take the job, since the campaign began in 1931, just six years after Matt’s death.

Matt Talbot was venerated in 1975. His life is a wonderful example of God’s Grace.

Hopelessly addicted to alcohol at the age of 28, and filled with shame, Matt resolved to change his life. With the help of the Jesuits and the spiritual exercises of St Ignatius, Matt was able to.

Now his example has become a shining light of hope to others caught in a web of addiction.

“They think, ‘if God could do this for Matt Talbot, he can do it for me’,” Fr Costelloe said. “Alcoholics can identify with Matt because he went through all the horrors, the shivers, the shakes, the cold turkey.

“The Pope said he’s convinced Matt’s the man chosen by God to be the patron saint of addicts.

“And if you look at the list of patron saints there’s no patron saint for addicts.

“And when you look at Church history, whenever there’s a problem, God produced somebody.”

In spite of the many thousands of addicts cured with Matt’s help – up to 40,000 people go through the American Matt Talbot Retreat Movement every year – the Vatican is looking for a physical miracle. With advances in medical science these are very difficult to come by.

Any suggestion of a miracle attributable to Matt’s intervention goes first to Fr Costelloe and, if it’s worthwhile, on to the Vatican. Despite what Fr Costelloe labels “close calls” his search continues.

Fr Costelloe’s housekeeper thinks his search is in vain.

“That feller will never perform a physical miracle, he’s too busy looking after his boozing mates,” she told him.

It is in his very ordinariness that so many see Matt as inspiration.

When he began the task, Fr Costelloe met people who had known Matt Talbot early in their lives.

“One lady said to me one day: ‘I knew Matt Talbot, and he couldn’t be a saint’.

“I asked ‘why not?’ and she said: ‘Because he didn’t look like one’.

“I asked, ‘what did he look like?’ and she gave me a wonderful answer: ‘He looked like one of us’.”


Note: Fr. Morgan Costelloe, author of "Matt Talbot: Hope for Addicts" (1987; 2001) and "The Mystery of Matt Talbot" (1981) is now retired, and Fr. Brian Lawless is the current Vice- Postulator for the Cause of Venerable Matt Talbot.
Key to Matt Talbot's recovery from alcoholism was turning his life over to the care of God.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Plaque to mark Venerable Matt Talbot's birthplace

For those interested and available in the Dublin area, the following notice has been posted:

"The Dublin Diocesan Matt Talbot Committee

A plaque to mark the birthplace of the Venerable Matt Talbot on Aldborough Courtbeside the Five Lamps Nth Strand will be unveiled by the Lord Mayor of Dublin Gerry Breen on Tuesday, the 30th November, 2010, at 12.15pm. All are welcome."

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Matt Talbot in stained glass

Life-like representation of Matt Talbot

The above photograph of Matt Talbot is located on the lower right corner of the photograph below.

Jesus (with notes) by Niall McAuley .

Source:http://www.flickr.com/photos/gnmcauley/629224412/#/photos/gnmcauley/629224412/in/pool-37615406@N00/ (Click this link to identify the notes below with their position in this photograph.)

St. Peter and Paul's church, Athlone, completed in 1937. Designed by Richard King, of Harry Clarke Studios, Dublin after Harry Clarke's death.

Jesus is shown breaking bread at the last Supper. The theme is Jesus, the Eucharist and scenes and saints associated with the Eucharist.

The notes below are linked to photos of the relevant detail in the window. Some of the notes here refer to Church of Saints Peter and Paul Athlone: An Illustrated History and Guide by Patrick Murray.


1. This is Pius X, with the 1910 decree on the age children receive first holy communion: Quam Singulari Sacra Tridentina.

2. Moses & Co. gathering Manna in the desert. Scouts carrying huge bunches of grapes from the Promised Land appear in the background.

3. St. Gertrude. Ark of the Divinity.

4. Moses striking the rock at Emmaus.

5. Paschal Baylon, says Murray.

6. The Wedding feast at Cana. Water into wine. Conversio.

7. St. Tarcisius

8. Mane Nobiscum is from Luke 24:29, when disciples on the road to Emmaus meet the risen Jesus.

9.Thoma Bene Scripsisti de me is Thomas Aquinas being addressed by Jesus while at prayer.

10. Ecce Cor, Latin for Behold the Heart, with a traditional image of the Sacred Heart, with thorns, flames and a cross.

11. Sancti Venite Christi Corpus Sumite is a hymn attributed to St. Sechnall, St. Patrick's nephew.

12. An image of the church itself, with Jesus on a hill, and a hen with chicks. Two saints - Peter and Paul, presumably - look over his shoulder. Beneath is written Quoties Volui
a reference to Luke 13:34, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings.
13. Saint Julianna holding a martyr's palm. Icons of her with a martyr's palm can be found with Google.

14. The miracle of the loaves and fishes. Multiplicatio

15. Murray IDs this as John Eudes, with his Sacred Heart.

16. Longinus jabs the crucified Jesus with his spear.

17. Saint Margaret Mary Alocoque, a 17th century nun devoted to the Sacred Heart.

18. Eating the Paschal Lamb before leaving Egypt.

19. Matt Talbot in shabby modern clothes holds a scroll saying "Fast Friends". I don't know why. Note the ends of the chains hanging from his trousers, which he was wearing under his clothes when he died.

20-21: Michael and Gabriel carry a sword and a lily, respectively.

22. Exentera Cor Piscis, Tobit 6, disembowel the heart of the fish. The image is Tobiah walking with the angel Raphael. This image is very similar to Botticini's "The Three Archangels With Tobias" from 1467.

23. Beneath Christ's feet is says Hoc est Corpus Meum, This is my Body.

24. Grape Vines grow at the bottom of the window.

25. Harry Clarke Stained Glass Ltd.

Different comments and photographer, Retro Stu (Stuart), of the Church of SS. Peter& Paul, Athlone-Harry Clark Stained Glass Ltd window (North side) are below:

Dublin born Harry Clarke (1889 – 1931) was a leading figure in the Irish Art & Crafts Movement of the early 20th century. He is most famous for his stained glass works, both religious and secular but also renowned as a book illustrator.

He loved the use of deep, rich colours for his glass with heavy black lines for contrast that give a brilliant jewel-like effect. Together with his style of drawing make his works very distinctive. Chartres Cathedral, France was an early influence on his stained glass but he also absorbed many traits from contemporary movements such as Romanticism, Art Noveau and Celtic revivalism.

In 1889, his father opened up the stained glass & church decorator studio of Joshua Clarke & Sons in North Frederick Street, Dublin. Harry was heavily influenced by the work he saw created there and involved himself in it from an early age showing great talent and proficiency by the time he was 14. After completing his apprenticeships and art degree, Harry eventually went on to run the studio with help from his brother, Walter.

Walter died in 1930 and Harry a year later. After that, the studio was reorganised under the name of Harry Clarke Stained Glass Ltd who continued to produce stained glass in a similar style. The stained glass windows pictured were produced after the death of Harry but nonetheless, true works of art. It was common for the Clarke Studios to recreate the style and details from coloured cartoons that Harry Clarke made early during his short career. The Harry Clarke Stained Glass Studios continued at their original premises in North Frederick Street until they closed in 1973.

The two standing figures in the lower corners are good life-like representations. Their style is very much different from the rest of the window’s panels so must have been painted by another artist. The Venerable Matt Talbot is shown on the right with Pope Pius X on the left.

Note: For an exterior photograph of the Church of SS. Peter& Paul, Athlone, click http://two.archiseek.com/2009/1937-st-peter-and-pauls-church-athlone-co-westmeath/

We are grateful these photographs (and comments) are online.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Swapping books for those about Matt Talbot

For those who seek books about Matt Talbot, besides publishers and libraries, some in-print and out-of-print publications are periodically available through http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=matt+talbot&x=0&y=0 and http://books.shop.ebay.com/?_from=R40&_trksid=p5197.m570.l1313&_nkw=matt+talbot&_sacat=267. What is available is constantly changing.

One inexpensive avenue is through book swapping among online book groups/clubs, such as http://www.paperbackswap.co/book/browser.php?all_ti=Matt+Talbot
(As we have previously noted, some inexpensive Matt Talbot booklets are also available through
and related items through http://www.calixsociety.org/store)

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Shining as a Star

A double-biography that might be of interest is Shining As Stars: The Stories of Matt Talbot, the saintly Irish laborer and Leon Dupont, the Holy Man of Tours (with Illustrations) by John Beevers, American edition published by Newman Press, Westminster, Maryland in 1956. Three copies of this out-of-print book are currently for sale on eBay and Amazon.com.

From the front cover flap: "Holiness, while one in essence, finds endlessly varied manifestations in the personalities of those whom grace touches, Alike in their love of God, the saints can be refreshingly unlike one another in almost every other respect. Moulds are carelessly broken, categories lightly transgressed, norms easily surpassed. One may be a saint sitting on a pillar in 5th century Syria, or sitting on a throne in 13th century France...

From the back cover flap: "...John Beevers has traced and compared the lives of Leon Dupont and Matt Talbot. Superficially they were distantly different men: one a wealthy, well educated, traveled, and socially prominent French business man; the other, an obscure Dublin dock-worker, almost without education, certainly without position; his home a tenement room, the extent of his travels the city limits. The Holy Man of Tours, as Leon Dupont came to be known, never had to do a hard day's physical work in his life; Matt Talbot did little else. One was married; the other single. One enjoyed a wide circle of acquaintances; the other hardly had a close friend. But in that incalcuable and startling democracy of holiness these two men were alike. Each in his own fashion, each in his own circumstances, each in his own unique response to the guidance of the Spirit who breathes where He will, these two men achieved that similarity that springs from the stamp of Christlikeness..."

Beevers (1911-1975) wrote a number of books on saints as well as religious and secular topics. It was from research on his previous book on St. Therese of the Child Jesus and her devotion to the Holy Face of Our Lord that led Beevers to a "photograph of the Holy Face," the one venerated by Leon Dupont, and found in a reproduction of a page of Matt Talbot's prayer book, a book which contained eight pages given up to the devotion and included some of the prayers written by M. Dupont" (Shining as Stars, page 10).

Monday, November 15, 2010

Song of a Happy Man

In his book, Song of a Happy Man: A Commentary on Psalm 91, published by St. Bede's Press in 2002, Fr. Anselm Fitzgerald, a Cistercian of the Strict Obedience (Trappists), discusses some aspects of Matt Talbot's life in his chapter on "The Grace of God," pages 44-49, which can be read at http://books.google.com/books?id=57xMS6g527EC&pg=PA44&dq=%22matt+talbot%22&hl=en&ei=Jn3gTN-gE9OQnwe2ksToDw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=8&ved=0CEgQ6AEwBzgo#v=onepage&q=%22matt%20talbot%22&f=false

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Photograph of Matt Talbot and Co-Workers

Note: Fr. Morgan Costelloe, former Vice-Postulator of the Cause of Venerable Matt Talbot, states in his publication that "the book cover photograph was taken in T & C Martin's [timber yard on the docks] about 1918. Matt Talbot is on the extreme left." The book publisher is Messenger Publications, Dublin, 1981 and is available through Matt Talbot Retreats ( Matt Talbot Retreat Movement, Inc. LITERATURE ORDER FORM

The "head shot" (below) of Matt is cropped from this group photograph.