Saturday, June 30, 2012

Venerable Fulton J. Sheen on Coping on Alcoholism

Pope Benedict XVI signed a decree on Thursday, June 28, 2012 that American Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen (1895-1979) is now “Venerable,” in recognition that he lived a heroic, virtuous life. (See and among hundreds of links.)

Among his prolific writings and presentations, a three-part series, Timeless Wisdom for Those Coping with Alcoholism, may be of particular interest. Information is available at and

“Matt Talbots are always possible with the grace of God”

[Please note that this article was published seventy years ago, three years after the book, Alcoholics Anonymous, was published and Matt Talbot had been deceased for seventeen years. Our title is copied from a sentence in the text.]

By Daniel M. O'Connell, S.J.
AMERICA, February 14, 1942

As a result of an article of mine in AMERICA (December 6, 1941), mentioning the laudable work of Alcoholics Anonymous, I received several letters asking if there were Catholic branches of this organization.

The most encouraging letter came to me from Cleveland, Ohio. The writer stated that he was a young Catholic man, educated in Catholic parochial, secondary and collegiate (two years) institutions. He has been a member of Alcoholics Anonymous for the past seven months. I quote from his letter the part which is of especial interest to Catholics.

"Membership in this city is in excess of 1,500, comprising more than 30 groups meeting once a week. We use five hospitals, including Catholic Charity. The first hospital used was a Catholic hospital, one in a nearby city. It is unfortunately true that about 75 per cent of our cases are Catholic. Our greatest successes have been with those of our own faith. In our own group we have deleted the expression "power greater than ourselves and substituted God. The first members, so I am told, were loath to believe in a Supreme Being; hence the other expression."

The statement that "75 per cent are Catholic" is, I hope, to be restricted and explained by the fact that the writer's group is Catholic and hence has come into contact with Catholics rather than non-Catholics. But at its worst calculations, the assertion would underline emphatically the points I tried to make previously, namely, the need of more instruction on the cardinal virtue of Christian temperance and the field of zeal open especially to the Catholic laity in being good shepherds who bring back to the fold victims of intemperance, especially of our own Faith. Great praise is due to this Cleveland group because it has made itself Catholic in principle. Whether it is the first such among Alcoholics Anonymous, I cannot say, though the general Cleveland chapter of A.A.'s is seven years old.

In the hope that this movement and similar ones for temperance may grow among Catholics, I am adding some pertinent facts about Alcoholics Anonymous. They declare quite frankly that their approach to the disease is based on their own drinking experience and on what they have learned to expect from the help of medicine and psychiatry. To this the Catholic groups, at least, would add: from the grace of God. The latter Alcoholics Anonymous can say in all humility with Saint Paul: "By the grace of God, I am what I am."

In fact, the group might take St. Paul as their patron. One of their fundamental requisites is sympathy, and surely this Apostle had that quality in an outstanding degree. Among Cardinal Newman's most typically appealing sermons, there is one entitled "Saint Paul's Gift of Sympathy." In it he skillfully develops the Apostle's manifestation of this winning virtue. Dr. W.D. Silkworth, Chief Physician at the Charles B. Towne Hospital, New York, writing of Alcoholics Anonymous in the Journal Lancet, stresses this point of sympathy: "This peculiar ability, which an alcoholic who has recovered exercises upon one who has not recovered, is the main secret of the unprecedented success which these men and women are having." Sympathy begets sympathy. As Dr. Silkworth expresses it: "Then, too, the patient's hope is renewed and his imagination is fired by the idea of membership in a group of ex-alcoholics where he will be enabled to save the lives and homes of those who have suffered as he has suffered."

It is encouraging to note that Dr. Silkworth, in his summary of the essential features for the cure of drunkenness, insists explicitly: "That he (the patient) recommit himself daily, or hourly if need be, to God's care and direction, asking for strength." In fact, the Doctor urges several points of Catholic moral theology: "try to adjust bad personal relationships;" that he make reparation for the past, "setting right, so far as possible, such wrongs as he may have done in the past;" that he "pray daily, or hourly if need be," a laudable practice in Catholic asceticism, known among us these long centuries past as "renewing one's morning intention."

I mention these obvious practices to show that our Catholic laity is well prepared to engage in and to super naturalize this movement of Alcoholics Anonymous as a means of true Catholic Action. The same has been done in many similar movements whose beginnings were not religious, in our understanding of that necessary element. Dr. Silkworth, who evidently is held in high esteem by Alcoholics Anonymous, seconds this position, if, as I trust, he uses "Deity" in the Catholic meaning: "Newcomers have been unable to stay sober when they have tried the program minus the Deity."

A.A.'s rightly insist on modern medical means placed at their disposal by Providence. Hospitalization under a competent physician is essentially the first step for an alcoholic on his return journey to normality, and even to a saintly life. (Matt Talbots are always possible with the grace of God.) But delirium tremens, a "wet brain" and similar calamities are to be feared in the case of heavy drinkers, who do not receive at once the physical readjustment to be had ordinarily only in a hospital.

I shall be indebted to Dr. Silkworth for two further points. In speaking of the textbook as it may be called, of the A.A. movement, a volume of 400 pages and entitled Alcoholics Anonymous, he makes the following observation, part of which I am italicizing: "There is a powerful chapter addressed to the agnostic, as the majority of the present members were of that description." This confirms the view of my Cleveland correspondent. It may also show that inebriety is had in corresponding proportions among non-Catholics as among Catholics, as I suggested above.
Doctor Silkworth then straight forwardly faces the question which arises in regard to any comparatively new treatment of a world-old problem: "Will the movement spread? Will many of these recoveries be permanent? No one can say. Yet, we at this hospital, from our observation of many cases, are willing to record our present opinion as a strong 'Yes’ to both questions."
The medical profession is rightly conservative in giving its imprimatur to new cures, medicines and matters properly within its field. Such approval, in general, has been given to Alcoholics Anonymous. The most recent instance I have at hand is from Dr. Merril Moore, Director of Research at the Washingtonian Hospital for Alcoholism, Boston, Mass. I had quoted from him in may above-mentioned article, and he was kind enough to send me additional matter on the treatment of this disease.

The strongest chapters of the A.A.Is are in Cleveland, New York City and Akron, Ohio. Claim is made for vigorous beginnings in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Denver, Kansas City, Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Richmond, Va., Houston, Tex. An original agnostic touch was accidental to the movement. In fact belief in God and His Providence for the weakest of His children is now, apparently, a fundamental desideratum in the A.A. technique. Does not then such a movement deserve our heartiest cooperation as Catholics?

The work has also the human appeal of success. There is no claim of a "sure-cure," but the cures freely placed on record are an incentive to zealous but hesitant workers in this field of Christian temperance. I quote in illustration from an editorial in the Houston Press, entitled "Alcoholics Anonymous."
"People of independent spirit like to settle (liquor) for themselves ...( others) inclined to reform come to the front with suggestions ... even for its abolition. But Alcoholics Anonymous ... have taken to the wagon by a technique of their own ... They say their cure works. They show as witnesses hundreds of lives restored...The press thinks their...unusual success so important that it begins a series of articles on Alcoholics Anonymous, written by One of Them...even the liquor industry ... would wish success to a technique that promises much to men and women who cannot handle their drinks."

I have read this series of articles. Naturally, as their author notes, they turn quite often into the autobiographical. He insists that alcoholics are definitely sick. It is the difference between them and other normal people who are able to "hold their liquor." The disease is mental as well as physical. For the alcoholic to recognize this is essential to his cure. The admission is hard. It has been made easier by the wide publicity given to medicine's discoveries in allergy, which fundamentally is the old proverb that one man's meat is another man's poison. "With true alcoholics," the writer declares, "it is never a question of control or moderation. Their only out is absolute abstinence." To a layman, this is medicine's sane advice on any allergy. To a moralist, it is "avoiding the occasions of sin."

Alcoholics Anonymous are not, as far as I can judge, Manichaean. Liquor in its various forms and in its medicinal and social purposes is a gift from the Author of all nature, they know. But just as sugar is a similar bounty and yet fatally destructive for a diabetic, so is alcohol in any form, except by a doctor's prescription, for certain men and women. Subterfuges abound for the real alcoholic: to switch from scotch to beer, wine, rum, gin; to drink whiskey only in milk; only post-meridian (standard time!); only in the company of others; only at home; never on an empty stomach; to take more physical exercise, etc. All these may be a great help to temperance for the ordinary person, but not for the individual who is alcoholic, according to those who freely confess they should know, viz., Alcoholics Anonymous. Hence their insistence on total abstinence for those who are by nature irresponsibly allergic to liquor. This physical and even mental predisposition implies no moral turpitude in itself any more than does, for example, a diabetic allergy.

Catholic temperance societies have long ago recognized these facts of nature. In addition they have endeavored to elevate the "pledge" to a supernaturally meritorious act. It is farthest from my mind to ignore their noble work. I hope by calling attention to the encouraging results of Alcoholics Anonymous, especially through their sympathetic point of view and their continuous giving of time to the alcoholic sick, men and women, to encourage our Catholic laity to do likewise, in humble footsteps after the Good Shepherd.

Alcoholics Anonymous deal with the actually afflicted. The Christian virtue of temperance goes much farther. It embraces all: the alcoholic; those who drink moderately; total abstainers; young and old, men and women. Has this universal obligation, I ask under happy correction, been as universally taught in our country as, say another cardinal virtue, justice?”

Note: The article mentioned by the author in the first sentence can be found at

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Matt Talbot Day of Remembrance

[For Roman Catholic websites that post a brief biography of a saint or holy person for a particular day of the year, we may find Venerable Matt Talbot listed for June 18 or June 19, such as the one below. (For a comment about these two dates, see Matt Talbot Remembrance Day Discrepancy)

The following narrative about Matt Talbot is from the Ministry with Persons with Disabilities at the Archdiocese of Atlanta, Georgia at e=Venerable+Matt+Talbot&2=Alcoholics&patronage=Alcoholics. Its writer, Mr, McCoy, states that “a Jesuit Father, Father Edward Dowling helped A.A. to formulate this 12 step program in 1935.” Please note that while Alcoholics Anonymous was founded in 1935 by Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith and the book, Alcoholics Anonymous, was published in 1939, Bill Wilson, its anonymous author, did not meet Fr. Dowling until 1940 when Bill learned of the similarity between the 12 steps of AA and the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. One source, among many, about this meeting can be found at and]

“Venerable Matt Talbot
Feast day: June 19
(Patron of Struggling and Recovering Addicts and Alcoholics)
Matthew Talbot (1856 - 1925) was born in the poverty of Dublin's inner city. He took to drink when still a child, and was considered a hopeless alcoholic by age thirteen. When his wages were spent, he borrowed and scrounged for money. He pawned his clothes and boots to get money for alcohol. He became a thief, once even stealing the violin from a blind street entertainer. The violin was sold to pay for a "Drinks are on me!" pub bill. 

Sixteen years later at age 28, he decided to "kick the habit". His remaining forty-one dry years were lived heroically, attending daily Mass, praying constantly, helping the poor and living the ascetic life-style of Celtic spirituality. A Jesuit priest helped him, giving him a rehabilitation program, which providentially incorporated what was to become the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. This is not really surprising when one remembers that a Jesuit Father, Father Edward Dowling helped A.A. to formulate this program in 1935. The steps have basis in the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, the founder of the Jesuits. The priest also gave him a chain to wear wrapped around his waist beneath his clothing. It was a very light but somewhat long chain, much like a clock chain. He wore it as a self-reminder of the fact that he was once enslaved by alcohol, and of his pledge to the Sacred Heart to keep on fighting "the demon". 

Matt also became a Third Order Franciscan in 1890. "Never be too hard on the man who can't give up drink." He told his sister. "It's as hard to give up the drink as it is to raise the dead to life again. But... both are possible and even easy for Our Lord. We have only to depend on him."
Matt Talbot worked in the lumber yards on the docks of Dublin. He was always very poor, partly because he was so generous to people in need. To his neighbors and his fellow workers, he was a cheerful, happy friend. He gave away most of his wages every week to the poor at home and in the Catholic missions abroad. He lived a life of prayer, fasting, and service, trying to model himself on the sixth century Irish Monks. 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, St. Teresa of Avila, and Blessed 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 scraps of paper, and then handed it to a sometimes astonished priest for explanation the next time he went to Confession.

After a life of heroic perseverance, Matt died suddenly while walking to Mass, June 7, 1925. Venerable Matt Talbot's remains were moved to Our Lady of Lourdes church on Sean McDermott Street, Dublin, Ireland in 1972. The tomb has glass panels through which the coffin may be seen. He was declared Venerable by Pope Paul VI in 1975. Addiction treatment programs, retreats, and centers throughout the world now bear his name.

Saint's Prayer

Gentle Matt, I turn to you in my present needs and ask for the help of your prayers. Trusting in you, I am confident your charitable and understanding heart will make my petitions your own. I believe that you are truly powerful in the presence of Divine Mercy. If it be for the glory of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the honor of Mary, our Mother and Queen and the deepening of my relationship with them, show that your goodness towards me, in my daily struggles, equals your influence with the Holy Spirit, who is hidden and at home in my Heart. Friend of pity, friend of power, hear, oh hear me in this hour. Gentle Matt, please pray for me. Amen
Special Thanks to: Thanks to The Life of Matt Talbot: A Dublin Laborer by Sir Joseph Glynn and Book of Saints by the Monks of Ramsgate for the basis of this narrative. 

The national Matt Talbot Shrine for the United States is located in Manorville, Long Island.

Data entered by: Ed McCoy on 2011-12-14”

Monday, June 18, 2012

Dublin Diocesan Matt Talbot Website now online

We noted earlier this year that the “official” Matt Talbot website was forthcoming (Official Venerable Matt Talbot website coming soon).

Although still under construction, the “Dublin Diocesan Matt Talbot Website” is now online at with its home page and "The Story of Matt Talbot" available.

We encourage all who have an interest in Venerable Matt Talbot to bookmark this new interactive website and to continue to use our Venerable Matt Talbot Resource Center bookmark.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Matt Talbot: a Slave to the Virgin (poem)

[Irish poet Patrick Cotter has called Tanya Olson’s “Slave to the Virgin” a “poem with overt Irish subject matter--a biographical treatment of Matt Talbot which deftly balances the voice of an omniscient narrator with the fictional personal voice of Talbot speaking himself.]

Slave to the Virgin

Tanya Olson

Matt Talbot walked Dublin
with crushed glass in his socks.
With barbed wire around his chest.
Chains wrapped his right arm
and knee, cords on the other side.
Hid these bindings beneath his clothes.
Crossed the city’s river moving from mass
to mass this way because he found himself
a slave to the Virgin.

Carried bricks for a living. Made alms
of what he earned. Slept only
on a plank bed. Kept but a timber
for his pillow. Never swore. Took
the pledge. No tobacco. Told no one
how he lived for pride in devotion
he thought the most devious sin of them all.

Bound his body to learn his body.
Learned his body to forget
his body. How else to get to empty.
How else to reach freedom but by journey.
Back and forth across the waters
beneath the monkey puzzle trees.
Walked quickly. Head down.
How else to approach her
but with a tested heart made toom.

A slave amn’t I. My body a coffle
chained in one world
driven to the next. There’s mornings
I think of heaving me
over the bridge. Nights, I dream
I cross the river north
to hide myself from myself.
To keep me off my trail.

But there’s no smarts in that.
This river is a knife
through the city’s middle.
These trees are but puzzles
to a monkey.
Amn’t I a slave to the Virgin.
Amn’t I a hod-carrier for the Lord.
Source: We appreciate that Tanya has placed this poem online at

Friday, June 8, 2012

One reflection on Matt Talbot

I do not want, in fact I forbid you, to be imprudent in the matter of corporal penances. But, my dear child, if you let a whole fortnight go by without any self-inflicted pain, can you honestly look Jesus in the face and say, “I am like to Him”?

COMMENT: The idea of self-inflicted pain is not popular in contemporary spirituality. Oddly enough though, it seems wildly popular in modern secular culture with its fad for physical fitness and punishing bodies in the gym in order to make them ever more attractive…

Physical mortification was the norm in Fr Doyle’s day [1873-1917] – there was nothing unusual in it all. While Fr Doyle was quite severe on himself on occasion, he always urged caution on the part of others. However, despite his caution, he issues an interesting challenge today – do we really imitate the crucified Christ if we do not do penance ourselves, even in some small fashion?

Yesterday was the anniversary of the death of Venerable Matt Talbot. Matt died in 1925. He was close to the Jesuits and attended the Jesuit Church in Gardiner Street almost every day for many years. Fr Doyle was based in Belvedere School (about 200m from this church) for about a year around 1909. It is probable that he lived in the community in Gardiner Street. It seems more than likely that Fr Doyle crossed paths with Matt Talbot at some stage. However, we have no record of such an event, so we can only speculate. Similarly, we have no record of Matt having read O’Rahilly’s biography of Fr Doyle. Yet, Matt – despite being an unschooled labourer – was a voracious reader of spiritual literature and especially of spiritual biographies. It would be most strange if he never read this wildly popular book about a heroic local Jesuit. We know that he used to give books away or lend them to others, so perhaps he had it and passed it on. We shall never know…

As is well known, Matt dropped dead on the street while on the way to Mass. It was this sudden death that allowed his penitential chains to be found on his body. Matt is held in very high esteem all around the world, but especially in Dublin. His harsh penances did not repel people – on the contrary his asceticism is fundamentally part of his charm. His chains are important relics and an important part of his story and spirituality. Matt is not alone in this – many of the most popular saints lived deeply penitential lives, and it has not diminished their popularity one bit. How odd then if anyone were to think that Fr Doyle’s asceticism would make him less appealing to the public…

Matt’s example also teaches us a profound lesson in avoiding sin. After his conversion, he was determined not to fall back into alcoholism. He prayed hard, but he also took action – he organised his life in such a way that he would not face temptations. He kept himself busy and away from pubs and he even made it something of a rule never to carry money with him in case he was tempted to buy a drink. Do we avoid temptations with the same determination and single-mindedness that Matt had?

Matt’s heroic virtues have been formally recognised by the Church; now a miracle is required for his beatification. Ireland needs saints! We need beatifications and canonisations! Let us remember to pray through the intercession of Matt Talbot when we are in need of help.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

This day in 1925 Irish History

[This article is copied as it appears at  From the published comments at this link, there are those who do not view Matt as a saintly person.]

“7 June 1925: The death of the Venerable Matt Talbot on this day.  

Matt Talbot was on his way to Mass on Sunday, 7 June 1925, when he collapsed and died of heart failure on Granby Lane in Dublin. Nobody at the scene was able to identify him. His body was taken to Jervis Street Hospital, where he was undressed, revealing the extent of his austerities. A heavy chain had been wound around his waist, with more chains around an arm and a leg, and cords around the other arm and leg.

He was a reformed alcoholic who turned from a life consumed by Drink to one of physical hardship and mortification devoted to religious worship. Matt was born into a large family in Dublin City in 1856. When he was just 12 years old he started to drink and became addicted. He tried numerous times to give it up but met with only temporary success. When he was 28 years old he took the Pledge and kept it until his death 41 years later. A Priest advised him to follow the ways of the early Monks & Holy Men of Ireland in avoiding the Temptations of the Flesh. He henceforth lived a Life of rigorous Work and Prayer.

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. 

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. Reality (July/August 1999), a Redemptorist Publication  

On 6 November 1931, Archbishop Byrne of Dublin opened a sworn inquiry into the alleged claims to holiness of the former dock worker. The Apostolic Process, the official sworn inquiry at the Vatican, began in 1947.

On 3 October 1975 Pope Paul VI declared him to be Venerable Matt Talbot, which is a step on the road to his canonisation, a process which needs evidence of a physical miracle in order to be successful.His story soon became known to the large Irish émigré communities. Countless addiction clinics, youth hostels, statues and more have been named after him throughout the world from Nebraska to Warsaw to Sydney. One of Dublin's main bridges is also named after him. Pope John Paul II, as a young man, wrote a paper on him.

Talbot's remains were removed from Glasnevin Cemetery to Our Lady of Lourdes church on Seán McDermott Street, Dublin, in 1972. The tomb has a glass panel through which the coffin may be seen.On his coffin is inscribed the following words: 'The Servant of God, Matthew Talbot.' 

There is a small plaque in Granby Lane at the site of Matt Talbot's death.”

Friday, June 1, 2012

Matt Talbot Exhibit at the 50th IEC 2012

The 50th International Eucharist Congress 2012 will take place June 10-17, 2012 in Dublin, Ireland with up to 25,000 pilgrims expected to attend each day, including 12,000 international pilgrims representing more than 99 countries. Detailed information may be obtained at

General information, books, and prayer cards will be available as well as viewing relics of Venerable Matt Talbot at IEC Stand No. 139 in the Exhibition Hall. It will also be an opportunity to meet Fr. Brian Lawless, Vice-Postulator for the Cause for Canonization of Matt Talbot.