Thursday, December 25, 2014

An Opportunity to Produce a Venerable Matt Talbot Radio Play

Earlier this month Gerry Mc Donnell, a poet and author living in Dublin, informed us that he had recently written a radio play based on the life of Matt Talbot and was seeking someone who would be willing to produce it. This is an unique opportunity to help expand awareness of Matt Talbot.
We are, therefore, inviting everyone who might be interested to contact Gerry at

A copy of the play, The Cause of Matt Talbot, is available to anyone upon request to Gerry (or us at

Gerry wrote this synopsis of his play:

Synopsis of
This is a radio play which is approximately a half hour long. It is essentially about the journey and how people return changed from happenings on the journey.
Dan travels from Boston to Dublin to visit the shrine of Matt Talbot. He had promised his dying mother, who believed that he had been cured of alcoholism because of her prayers to Matt, that he would do so. He is skeptical and is on a dutiful visit to hand in notification of Matt’s intercession in his recovery from alcohol addiction. On the plane he meets Al a nervous, talkative traveller and a priest who has coincidentally written a pamphlet on Matt Talbot having been cured by praying to him. They talk about this patron protector of the alcoholic; their beliefs and doubts.
Dan arrives at the church where Matt’s tomb is. He stands at the back of the church in the gloom. The sacristan explains that he could talk to the priest after Mass. Soon after, the sacristan is back at his shoulder more loquacious than before. Dan gets a smell of drink off him. The Mass is long and after it is over the priest speaks to each parishioner in turn, giving them a blessing. Dan is waiting impatiently. He has to catch a flight back to Boston that afternoon. He explains his predicament to the sacristan who agrees to give the envelope to the priest. Once more the sacristan approaches Dan saying the priest would see him now. Dan asks the sacristan for the envelope which he doesn’t have. It transpires that the sacristan’s brother, who hangs around the church begging, has the envelope. Dan failed to distinguish between the two, in the shadows.
The priest assures him that his visit will not be wasted. He urges Dan to pray at Matt’s tomb. Dan is having compulsions to drink. He hears the voice of Matt encouraging him to stay sober. It is a transformative experience and he leaves the church with a blessing from the priest. His grimy surroundings look pristine. As he walks through the streets it is as if he is in love with everybody and everything. Feeling a little bit ungrateful he wonders is he having a flash-back to his drinking and drug taking days. He gets a taxi to the airport and boards his plane. He reaches into his pocket to read some of the literature on Matt which he got in the church. He takes out an envelope. It is the one given to him by his mother. The sacristan’s brother has the other envelope. He reflects on all that has happened. A fellow passenger engages him in small talk. He says, “I’m returning home, or am I?”

Some background information about Gerry Mc Donnell:

GERRY MC DONNELL was born and lives in Dublin. He was educated in Trinity College, Dublin where he edited  ICARUS, the college literary magazine; and at Dublin City University. He has had six collections of poetry published. He has also written for stage, radio and the television series Fair City. His play Making It Home, a two-hander father and son relationship, was first performed at the Crypt Theatre at Dublin Castle in 2001. A radio adaptation of this play was broadcast on RTE Radio 1 in 2008 starring the acclaimed Irish actor David Kelly as the father and Mark Lambert as the son. It has been translated into Breton and has been published. A stage production will happen in July 2014. He has written a radio play, a stage play and a libretto based on the life and work of the Irish poet James Clarence Mangan (1803 – 1849).

His stage play Song of Solomon, set on a canal in Dublin, has a Jewish theme. His interest in Irish Jewry has resulted in the chapbook Jewish Influences in Ulysses; a collection of monologues called Mud Island Elegy, in which Jews of 19th century Ireland speak about their lives from beyond the grave; Lost and Found concerning a homeless Jewish man living in the Phoenix Park in Dublin. Mud Island Anthology, concerning ‘ordinary’ Dublin gentiles who lived in the latter half of the 20th century was published in 2009 and is a companion collection to the ‘Elegy’ poems. His latest collection of poetry, Ragged Star, was published in 2011 by Lapwing Publications, Belfast. His novella called Martin Incidentally was published in January 2013. I Heard An Irish Jew, selected poems and prose, will be published in 2014.

He is a member of the Writers Guild of Ireland and the Irish Writers’ Union.
CONTACT:  0876119002

When asked as to what led Gerry to write this play, he responded with the following very personal reflection:

Gerry Mc Donnell
December 2014

I grew up close to where Matt Talbot lived. I had heard him spoken of fondly by ordinary working class people. I also heard that he passed the picket on a strike. So I had conflicting ideas about him. Anyway he was a figure of the past and had little impact on my life, I thought; that is until I followed in his footsteps down the dark tunnel of alcoholism. At this time I was rebellious and had little time for religion or things spiritual. It was to be some years before the figure of Matt re-emerged in my thoughts. The intervening years had brought the tragedy of the untimely deaths of my parents. So I was ripe for resentment and blame which started with God and moved down to mankind. 

Matt Talbot was in my consciousness during my recovery from alcoholism. I wondered how he could have stayed sober in a city awash with alcohol and poverty. The fact that he had lain down the drink at twenty-eight and remained sober for the rest of his life puzzled me. How could a man, on his own, beat the demon drink? Of course he wasn’t on his own. He turned to his religion and devoted himself to Our Lady. I too turned to religion in the battle to stay sober. But I also had the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous for support. 

I still had ambivalent feelings about Matt and his fervour. Was he a religious maniac or a holy man? The chains he wore pointed to the former, yet the man I got to know in my reading about him bore testimony to the latter. In a secular world it is easy to interpret his life in a negative way and dismiss his self-denial- the block of wood for a pillow and the tear at the knee of his trousers so he could better feel the discomfort of his flesh on the granite steps of the church where he went to Mass before a hard day’s work in a timber yard- as the actions of a fanatic.

However, as I matured in my sobriety I began to see him as a holy man. I read that he shared what little lunch he had with his fellow workers. He was kind and happy in himself although no doubt he had his demons to wrestle with. This was not the portrait of a deranged man. Nobody suffering from a mental illness could accomplish what he did as a life-long diligent worker and a daily Mass goer. 

 What led me to write my play, The Cause of Matt Talbot, was my identification with his Catholic, working class life and his recovery from alcoholism. I hope I have given a true picture of him in the play or at least have not besmirched his memory in any way.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Venerable Matthew Talbot Conversion Story

[This is one of the more personal and thoughtful introductory articles about Matt Talbot we have posted.]

Conversion Story: Venerable Matthew Talbot 

By Jeannie Ewing  

December 10, 2014

As a child, I found most of the stories of saints I read to be distant and abstract, entirely irrelevant to a young dreamer like me.  As an adult, however, not only have the lives of the saints influenced my spirituality and lifestyle, but many other people’s stories who have not yet been canonized have quickened my heart and linger there. The story of Venerable Matthew ("Matt") Talbot and his conversion is one of them. 

Venerable Matt Talbot was a typical Irishman who lived and worked in Dublin at the turn of the nineteenth century; he was typical in the sense that he was born into a large, Catholic family deeply impoverished and afflicted with the family disease of alcoholism.  But the sanctified manner in which he died was dramatically divergent from the sinful, selfish lifestyle he maintained from the onset of adolescence until his eventual conversion. “Matt Talbot was not someone who did things by halves.  For as fervently as he devoted himself to drinking in his young years, he just as fervently gave the rest of his life to God” (McGrane, 2006).  He lived in an epoch and milieu in which alcoholism was pervasive; Dublin alone in 1865 sheltered over two thousand pubs, and many people were recorded to have died from alcohol poisoning in 1865-1 (McGrane, 2006).

Matt’s father was an alcoholic, and Matt himself began drinking heavily at age twelve; it was readily available to him through his job at a “wine and beer establishment in Dublin” (McGrane, 2006).  His father tried to dissuade his drinking through intense scourging at home when Matt would arrive after work in a drunken stupor, but nothing and no one could prevent Matt from the downward spiral into the darkness of alcoholism. 

By today’s definition, he was truly addicted to alcohol.  His wages were essential to supplement his family’s needs.  There were twelve of them living at home, and both his mother and father were hard workers yet very poor.  As soon as Matt was paid, he gave his favorite pub owner all of his hard-earned money with the instruction to keep it all until he drank his earnings dry.  He often became so desperate for alcohol that he would beg from his friends for extra money, and he even came home on more than one occasion with no shirt or boots, as he had sold them for alcohol money (McGrane, 2006). 

At the age of 28, Matt hit rock bottom and pledged to his mother that he would never imbibe again. He held true to his promise.  Amazingly, he was able to do this without the help of any sort of rehabilitative program, as none existed to assist him at the time.  It was truly a miracle of God’s grace that Matt was able to change his life from the moment his mother told him, “Go, then, in God’s name, but don’t take [the pledge] unless you are going to keep it.”  As Matt responded that he intended to keep his pledge “in God’s name,” his mother added, “God give you the strength to keep it” (McGrane, 2006). 

Soon afterward, Matt chose to deepen his relationship with God, which had been waning since the disease of alcoholism had consumed his entire being.  “As an alcoholic, Matt’s god was the bottle, and his altar was a bar” (McGrane, 2006).  Yet, as is the case for many heroic saints whose vigor for self transforms into pining for God, Matt’s zeal for drinking quickly and permanently became transformed into a thirst for God.  He realized that God alone could slake his eternal thirst, and returning to the sacraments was grace enough for Matt to tackle withdrawals and long-term sobriety.

A striking feature of Matt’s conversion is that his life did not drastically change on the exterior; he remained a hard worker at his job doing manual labor, and he continued his daily regimen without much notice from others; yet Matt’s interior life was deepening rapidly, and he kept this dramatic conversion largely to himself out of profound humility. 

Eventually, however, everyone noticed Matt’s spiritual metamorphosis, though it was entirely by the silent witness of his changed life.  The day after Matt made his pledge to stop drinking, he began a lifelong commitment to attend daily Mass, and he would arrive at least a half hour early for silent prayer and devotions.  Instead of spending every last iota of money on alcohol, Matt donated much of his earning to charitable organizations.  He joined several Catholic sodalities through his boyhood parish, and he was faithful to classic devotions, such as the Stations of the Cross and the Rosary.  Most notably was how “Matt ate very little food and chose to sleep on a plank instead of a mattress” (McGrane 2006) as an act of penitence. 

Matt Talbot died at the age of 69 while walking to daily Mass at St. Saviour’s Church; he had been ill with heart and kidney problems (possibly related to the many years of abusing alcohol) and yet soldiered on to spend time with the Lord while he was suffering and struggling in the physical aftermath of his former malady.  No one could identify Matt when he collapsed on the road outside the parish, as he was carrying only a rosary and a prayer book.  Probably most shocking of all is that physicians discovered Matt’s body was covered in chains beneath his clothing once they began to prepare his body  for his funeral.  Matt may have chosen to succumb to instant gratification and sensual pleasures early in his life, but he certainly became a man of humble and authentic austerity in the end of his life.
There are two reasons Matt Talbot’s story strikes me so deeply: firstly, I belong to a family riddled with alcoholism and addiction.  I have witnessed family members and close friends become slaves to this disease, and a few of them have tragically died as a direct result of the consequences of alcohol and drug abuse. 
Secondly, I find the humility and asceticism of Matt's life to be so relevant and inspiring. Matt’s conversion was sincere, because he was encased in humility, and humility is a virtue so contrary to our natural concupiscence.  In fact, humility is the antidote to the vice of pride, which many theological scholars agree is the foundation and root of all other sins.  We dwell in the midst of the technological revolution in which it is commonplace for every American household to contain a plethora of virtual devices.  Yet asceticism draws the spirit of humanity, entices the eternal thirst of every soul back to its source: God and eternal rest with Him in Heaven.  I cannot imagine that any of us will acquire sainthood without obtaining the virtue of humility, which necessitates a perpetual dying to self; yet it seems even more challenging to achieve this when we are immersed in busyness; surrounded by constant noise; and generally exhausted and unfulfilled by the nagging restlessness that pervades our lives.  Matt Talbot recognized his own restlessness and responded quickly and fervently to God’s call for healing and holiness; this is the universal beckoning of all of humanity.

Matt Talbot may have earned an early reputation as a drunk, a low-life, and a selfish man, but he died a saintly man whose cause for canonization began in 1931.  He shed everything in his old life that encapsulated his sins and instead became a true zealot for everything that encompassed holiness: living for and in God’s abundant grace so that he could gain eternity by embracing a life of extreme simplicity and penitence, prayer and self-denial.  Who knows how many sufferings Matt silently offered as a sacrifice to God in reparation for his sins and for the sake of many other souls?  Yet that is precisely what makes his story so beautiful: he is one of us, and his life’s journey serves as a hopeful reminder that anyone in a state of darkness and sin has the potential to become a great saint when s/he cooperates daily in the act of total abandonment to God’s love and mercy.

Matt Talbot knew God’s mercy well, because he was cognizant of the enormity of God’s love for him and for all souls.  He is an excellent patron for those we all know who suffer from the disease of addiction, and what hope we can all gain in knowing and sharing his legacy with those who have lost all hope.

REFERENCE:  McGrane, Janice.  (2006). Saints to Lean on: Spiritual Companions for illness and disability, 81-93.  Cincinnati, OH:  St. Anthony Messenger Press.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Two Models of Change

"We should contribute"
The Catholic Messenger 
November 6, 2014  

"The saints in Christian history are models for almost any kind of human behavior. Some, like the great Augustine and the modern Irishman, Venerable Matt Talbot, are also models of change. They showed that early wildness does not define a life. The worst cad and drunk can become someone worth imitating for virtue.

At last month’s synod on marriage and family in Rome, some of the bishops spoke of such change as a “gradualism” recognized by the Catholic Church. Some other bishops at the synod worried that such talk is dangerous. People could misunderstand it as tolerance of poor judgment and a careless attitude toward virtue in youth.

St. Augustine is famous for praying, “Grant me chastity and continence, but not yet.” This was during his early dissolute years. He finally reached that goal, but not until after fathering a child and leaving the mother. He had been drawn to Christianity even as a young man, and he knew how to pray. Even in his wandering he was listening for the movement of God in his life. But Augustine’s move from reckless playboy to Christian hero — with the title Doctor of the Church — was made gradually, at his own personal pace.

Matt Talbot’s story is similar. He lived from 1856 to 1925 as a laborer in Dublin. In his early teen years he began drinking any liquor he could get, borrowing money for drinks, even stealing when the money ran out. After 16 years of this he made a pledge of sobriety, kept it, and became known for quiet kindness and charity to fellow workers. When he dropped dead on a Dublin street at the age of 69, he was found with a small chain wrapped around his body. It turned out that he had worn this for years as a practice of penance and self-control.

There are people who seem to move through life on a steady ladder of growth in virtue. For most of us, the story is different. We rise and fall, stumble, slip, rise and fall. And keep hoping, keep growing in our own ragged way, like Augustine and Matt Talbot...”


A woman who spent over two decades as a self-described ‘low bottom’ drug and alcohol addict and is now in recovery and practicing her religious faith again has recently stated that “I know now what I didn’t know before, that life doesn’t have to stay the same.  For years I didn’t know I had a choice to live any other way. Now I know that I have a daily choice.”

One of the many spiritual books that Matt Talbot read in sobriety was Confessions by St. Augustine.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Our Common Purpose

The following excerpt is from a meditation by Msgr. Charles Pope at

God has us here in this place at this time for a reason. We have some very particular purposes in His plan and He alone knows them all. Try for a moment to appreciate your dignity in this regard. You play a critical part in a cascade of events that ripple from your life and your place in God’s plan. No one can take that place and your role is crucial to millions of subsequent transactions in God’s wonderful vision.  Psalm 139 has this to say:

O LORD, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue  you know it completely, O LORD.  Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,  too lofty for me to attain. For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful. All my days  were written in your book before one of them came to be (Psalm 139, selected verses).

Despite whatever differences exist in our perceived  purposes in God’s plan, one common purpose is to share our interest about Venerable Matt Talbot with others and to pray for his canonization.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Venerable Matt Talbot Shrine Sign

The mortal remains of Matt Talbot rest in Our Lady of Lourdes Church, Sean MacDermott St., Dublin.  
Photos within the shrine and church are posted at The shrine is on Facebook at

Matt Talbot Shrine's photo.